We are all sadly familiar with national and local politics and who hasn't experienced the frustrations of office politics? For those of you living in a common interest ownership community, however, there is another type of politics and it involves being on the board, trying to get on the board and trying to recall the board. Ah, the inevitable community association politics!!
Groucho Marx once said, "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." Perhaps he lived in a condominium or homeowners' association?
Many years ago, condominium elections were conducted by proxy. How well did that function? Well, typically a few motivated people went around and gathered general proxies from the not-so-motivated people and, not surprisingly, the result was the same board year after year. The Florida Legislature responded to this dilemma by implementing an increasingly complicated election procedure for condominiums. The good news is that now condominium owners must cast a ballot to elect the board and the election is not dependent on achieving a quorum (which is hard to achieve when most folks would rather stay home and catch up on Tivo). This has cut down on some of the abuse but not eliminated it entirely.
In an HOA, there is still room for proxy abuse when it comes to electing directors. In terms of progress, HOA election disputes are now subject to mandatory binding arbitration with the Division in the same fashion as condominium election disputes under Section 718.1255.
Condominium owners still have the upper hand when it comes to ferreting out election abuse and dealing with it though. Pursuant to the Condominium Act, 15% of the total voting interests or 6 owners (whichever is greater) may petition the Office of the Ombudsman to appoint an election monitor. The Ombudsman may appoint the following to monitor a condominium election in the State of Florida:
1. A Division employee;
2. A person or persons specializing in condominium election monitoring; or
3. An attorney licensed to practice in Florida.
All costs associated with election monitoring are the responsibility of the entire association and not just the members petitioning for same.
Of course, all of these steps would not be necessary if it were possible to take the politics out of community association elections. It is apparent we still have a way to go. Some associations perform the task of electing a representative board flawlessly and others bring back memories of Florida's "hanging chad" debacle. If the tendency towards politics is a natural human trait we'll never cure this problem; the best we can hope for is to manage it like a chronic illness.