By Jon Schuppe
Aug 12, 2021
Soon after Jason Pizzo was elected to Florida’s state Senate in 2018, he began working on a bill that reflected one of his top priorities: stiffening penalties for secrecy, fraud and kickbacks on condominium boards.
The legislation, he said, was a response to constituents’ complaints about shady financial dealings that led to condo residents getting blindsided by costly renovation projects.
Pizzo, a Democrat who represents a corner of coastal Miami-Dade County packed with condos, introduced his bill over the objections of lobbyists who represented condo associations and the lawyers, property managers and other professionals who worked for them. They pressed him in private meetings, according to two lobbyists and Pizzo, and objected to his bill at public hearings, arguing that the proposal would make it too difficult and expensive for condo associations to operate. He won a couple of committee votes, but his bill went no further.
Three years later, he is still trying to get his proposal passed.
Fending off new penalties
In April 2019, a lobbyist stood before the Florida Senate’s Committee on Innovation, Industry and Technology and urged lawmakers not to approve a proposal to make it easier to file criminal charges against condo board members who accept kickbacks or subvert residents’ requests for financial records.
The lobbyist was Mark Anderson, representing the Chief Executive Officers of Management Companies, a trade organization for property managers that has been paid more than $500,000 to influence lawmakers over the past decade, according to public records.
He told the committee that the new penalties could be “weaponized” against board members and property managers by residents who want a seat on the board. He said the bill would lead to higher attorney fees and make it hard for associations to attract people to join boards because potential volunteers would fear being punished for inadvertent mistakes.
He added that associations were already trying to comply with new regulations imposed in the wake of a 2016 investigation of South Florida condos by a Miami-Dade County grand jury, which found regulators failed to protect condo residents from fraud, secrecy and conflicts of interest by boards and management companies. The new regulations, passed in 2017 following initial objections from condo lawyers, required boards to make it easier to access financial records and imposed criminal penalties for condo board election fraud, theft and self-dealing.
“We need to take a breath,” Anderson told the committee.
He was among a group of condo industry lobbyists trying to head off this first attempt by Pizzo, recently elected to the state Senate, to impose new regulations, which would toughen the penalties in the 2017 law and expand them to other kinds of misconduct. Pizzo had told the lobbyists about his plans months earlier, when he was still running for office.