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Condo owners meet to discuss fears of losing their homes

EAST LAKE — More than 50 condominium owners gathered to voice concerns about losing their condominiums Thursday night at East Lake Methodist Church.

State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, organized the meeting and a bipartisan group of representatives from three counties joined him.

A 2007 loophole in Florida law allows an investor who buys more than 80 percent of the condos in a complex to force other residents to sell at low prices. Residents are on the hook for thousands of dollars in mortgage payments even after moving away.

Investors, often from out of state, aim to convert condos into apartments, which are more profitable.

"This is really, really bad public policy that no homeowner in the state of Florida should ever have to deal with again," said Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, who moderated the discussion.

The lawmakers are looking for information as they consider drafting an amendment for the 2015 legislative session.

Stephanie Krasowski spearheads Floridians Against Condo Takeover, a group of residents from at least 10 complexes who are at risk of losing their homes.

"I bought my home to live in, not to have a bulk buyer take it from me," Krasowski said.

Residents can stop investors if 10 percent of them strike down the new plan. That's what happened at Madison Oaks, an East Lake complex where Krasowski lives.

But Krasowski's future in her condo is still uncertain because nothing in state law indicates what happens next, said attorney Joseph Gaynor, who represents Krasowski in a pending case.

Madison Oaks owners can stay in their homes while litigation continues, but some residents in other complexes are not as lucky.

Lisa Magill, a Becker & Poliakoff attorney who specializes in condominium law, said the 80 percent rule was enacted to streamline improving properties hit by the 2004 hurricanes.

Legislators who supported the 2007 bill did not foresee it being used by investors in this way.

Residents should be aware of increased sales activities, Magill said. Sometimes a single investor buys properties under different corporate names.

"They should gather together because they really have much more bargaining power if they are a cohesive front, rather than present their complaints individually," she said. "Your board of directors really needs to investigate the purchasers to the extent that they can."

Desmond Fowles, a Lansbrook Village resident in East Lake, pleaded with the legislators to work with Gov. Rick Scott on a temporary fix before 2015.

"Put a hold on all terminations in the state of Florida until all this is sorted out," he said.

Grant said legislators are exploring that option and others.

"You have a group of legislators here to make sure that no homeowner in the state of Florida is ever again in the situation you are in," Grant said.

Contact Julie Kliegman at jkliegman@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4159. Follow @jmkliegman.

Condo owners meet to discuss fears of losing their homes 07/10/14 [Last modified: Thursday, July 10, 2014 9:57pm]
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