We Didn't Start the Estoppel Fire, But We Sure Can Smother It!

We didn't start the fire

No we didn't light it, but we tried to fight it

It will still burn on, and on, and on, and on...

Billy Joel sang those iconic words in 1989 about our many battles.

While it doesn't rise to quite the same level, our community association partners have done battle on your behalf over the seemingly perennial issue of estoppel fees - the Home Tax - for the past 3 consecutive Legislative Sessions.

Last week, my blog told of our fights against the deep-pocketed special interests seeking an even greater share of real estate closing profits while trying to shift all the costs on us, the nearly 8 million home, condo and townhome owners living in community associations. The title companies and realtors are again pouring millions of dollars into politicians' campaign contributions. Here's money - pass this Estoppel Bill. Thanks to your speaking out and contacting lawmakers, we've beat them every year. But now the Estoppel Bill is back and the special interests are more determined and even more well-funded than years before.

This week, we lost our first battle in the Senate Regulated Industries Committee, which took up SB 398, this year's Estoppel Bill on Wednesday 2/22/17. While the Estoppel Bill ultimately passed that first committee on an 8-1 vote, several lawmakers expressed significant concerns with aspects of the Bill, and asked both sides, community associations and Realtors/title companies, to work together to find compromise.

Compromise is good. Those of us advocating for community associations believe we can find agreement on aspects of estoppels. But we can NOT allow higher fees for homeowners, loss of rights for your associations, and more work for less reimbursement for managers.

Here's some of what happened in this week's Committee Meeting:

- Special interests used sleight of hand to make estoppels seem problematic. One title industry representative showed examples of outlier estoppel letters to paint all estoppels as expensive and burdensome. But out of more than 350,000 closings in a recent year, there were zero complaints about excessive estoppel fees.

- "The bill sets a reasonable fee cap."POLITICO reported that Senator Jeff Brandes voted no on the bill because "he didn't like the idea of lawmakers 'fixing' prices."

- "Associations can still collect estoppel fees from the owner." If the Estoppel Bill (WE'LL-PAY-YOUR ASSOCIATION-BACK-AT-CLOSING) becomes law, you will personally end up footing the bill when a closing doesn't take place. Your Association will then have to chase down even more fees due. Just what you want; more collections, more attorneys fees, more costs you will have to pay out of pocket. Don't let this bad bill pass!

Florida is home to approximately 60,000 community associations - more than any other state. We don't need the burden of higher fees and assessments, and homebuyers deserve the consumer protection of expertly prepared and legally binding estoppel certificates.

Senator Passidomo, the Bill's sponsor, said this week "this Bill shouldn't take so much time." She's absolutely right. We are working with her to improve this Bill, and will continue having productive conversations with her. But we CANNOT afford to let this Estoppel Bill pass.

But let's be clear: we didn't start the estoppel fire - special interests seeking higher profits did. For now, the Home Tax moves on - we didn't light it, but we're trying to fight it. We'll keep you posted on next steps and what you can do.

Next week, the final week before the 2017 Legislative Session begins on March 7, we'll share some of the other community association-related bills up this year. Until then, hold your breath, we're all in for another wild ride.

Yours in Community,

Alan Garfinkel

Community Association Network (CAN)

Chairman of the Board of Directors




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