May 10, 2016

MBAF's Erbin Ramirez Discusses Election Fraud in Condominium Associations in the Daily Business Review.

Miami-Dade County is known for its beaches and exciting nightlife. Unfortunately, it is also becoming known as ground zero for condo fraud in the state.

The highest number of allegations of condo association fraud came from Miami-Dade in 2015, according to the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Of nearly 2,000 complaints registered with the state department, over 500 of them came from Miami-Dade County.

With nearly 1.6 million condos in Florida, and almost 40 percent of those in Miami-Dade and Broward – and more being built daily – condo associations can expect increased scrutiny from state and local regulators.

On April 15, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced he will be travelling to Tallahassee during the legislative session to support a group of state lawmakers from South Florida who are seeking to reform state legislation in order to crack down on the growing wave of condominium frauds.

Avoiding Fraud Claims

With so many prevalent accusations of voter fraud occurring in our area, now more than ever condo associations must pay scrupulous attention to their record keeping and election practices. Most accusations of fraud stem from falsification of ballots. The Florida Administrative Code sets forth several rules and regulations on ballots and counting procedures with which condo boards must comply. For example, Section 61B-23.0021 of the code requires the following processes be followed before ballots can be accepted and counted:

  • Maintain accurate, updated records showing the current owners of all the units.
  • The signature and unit identification on the outer envelope shall be checked against a list of qualified voters by the impartial election committee.
  • Where voting certificates are required for multiple or corporate owners, the voting certificates must be on file and the person signing the ballot envelope can only be the person who was designated on the voting certificate as the eligible voter.
  • Any exterior envelope which is not signed by the eligible voter shall be marked “disregarded” and shall not be counted.

But in addition to the safeguards required by the state, it is a good idea for condo associations to implement additional measures to ensure their election processes are beyond reproach. Some such measures could include watermarked ballots so they cannot be photocopied or require only votes cast in person by residents with photo identification.

Many condo associations are also planning to transition to some form of electronic voting, to combat voter fraud.

Clean condo board elections not only ensure state compliance, but more importantly, that those elected to the condo board, accurately reflect the will of the residents. Many of the complaints levied against the various boards in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, allege that board members basically “stole” their positions on the board. They further allege that unscrupulous board members maintain their power through manipulation, intimidation and other crooked means.

Having proper procedures in place also ensures that the will of the residents is rightfully represented, and those on the board are the ones actually intended to be there.

Who’s Responsible?

It is commendable that state legislators are trying to crack down on condo association fraud. We also applaud the efforts of the many honest associations out there that have stepped up, and are implementing measures to fight fraud. However, condo owners need to also understand the vital role they play in combating fraud.

Unscrupulous condo boards have been able to perpetrate their mischief, largely in environments of unit owner ignorance and complacency.

Condominium boards control the money of the communities that they oversee. That is why they are attractive targets for dishonest board members whose desire it is to steal elections, so they can embezzle said funds for their personal use. Unit owners must do their part to negate these kinds of board takeover scams and schemes that are perpetrated against them.

Unit owners in Miami-Dade County cannot bury their heads in the sand and allow this kind of “business as usual.” Owners must get involved in elections and association matters, and be vigilant against this kind of fraud. Unit owners should vote in every election. They should deliver their ballots in person and make every effort to ensure that their vote was properly submitted and counted for whom it was actually cast.

It is also incumbent upon other members of a condo board not to be afraid or intimidated by ruthless board members. They should be ready, willing and able to contact the association’s attorneys, accounting firm or other higher authorities to report any suspicious activities.