Make us your home page
Instagram

Unpaid fees put Florida condo owners in foreclosure

Ann Studen, a 75-year-old resident of On Top of the World, could be evicted because she can’t afford the monthly fees. “I have no place to go,” she says. She has outlived her nest egg and gotten a part-time job. Her only comfort is her dog Mimi.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Ann Studen, a 75-year-old resident of On Top of the World, could be evicted because she can’t afford the monthly fees. “I have no place to go,” she says. She has outlived her nest egg and gotten a part-time job. Her only comfort is her dog Mimi.

CLEARWATER

Sitting in her small condo in one of Tampa Bay's biggest retirement communities as her hands tremble, a 75-year-old woman reads a letter threatening to put her out of her home. Like so many other Floridians, Ann Studen is facing foreclosure. But in her case, it has nothing to do with her mortgage. She's four months behind on her $280 monthly maintenance fees, and her condo board has put a lien on her $70,000 unit.

It happens more often than you might think. While no one tracks foreclosures prompted by homeowner boards and associations, there are a rising number of people in Studen's situation, according to civil court judges and condominium officials.

In a shaky economy, this is one more way that people are falling through the cracks.

"I have no place to go. Where could I go?" says Studen, her face contorting in anguish. She's out of savings, low on cash and running out of time.

Evicting her may seem cold and harsh. And while condominium experts say they sympathize, many are quick to defend the practice.

Their argument: Condominium associations have to take aggressive steps to collect unpaid fees so they can do things like mow the grass, clean the pool, service the elevators and keep the lights on in common areas. If some owners don't pay, their neighbors have to pay more to make up for it. Increased fees for all can mean more defaulters. It can spin out of control.

"We feel sorry for people like this lady, but you can look at it both ways," says Bill Raphan of the state Condominium Ombudsman's Office.

"The rest of the owners are bearing the burden. If you were paying $100 a month and 50 percent of the unit owners don't pay, you're going to pay $200 a month. Every time someone is delinquent, your piece of the pie gets bigger."

These days he's seeing condominiums, particularly in South Florida, where 50, 60, even 70 percent of the owners are defaulting on their maintenance fees or mortgages.

"It's a cascade effect, like an avalanche."

'It's rampant'

The Tampa Bay area's high foreclosure rate is well documented. Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough and Hernando counties had more than 62,000 foreclosure filings of all kinds last year.

But nobody knows how many of Florida's 1.3-million condo residents are losing their homes because of unpaid maintenance fees. The state doesn't keep track. Neither do condo associations.

Anecdotally, experts say the number is climbing dramatically.

Raphan, the state's top condo peacekeeper, mediates all kinds of disputes and says his office is getting "a tremendous increase" in calls about foreclosures due to delinquent fees — five times as many as a couple of years ago.

"It's rampant. It's just getting out of hand," says Jan Bergemann, founder of Cyber Citizens for Justice, a Florida-based advocacy group for home and condo owners. "There must be no empty spaces under Florida's bridges anymore — they're kicking people out left and right."

Pinellas Circuit Judge J. Thomas McGrady, who handles foreclosures, is seeing an increase in these cases — "not nearly as often as the traditional foreclosure, but there is a fair number of them." Most of the time, he says, the condo in question is not its owner's primary home.

Typically, the foreclosed condo's title reverts to the lender, and the condo association collects up to six months in delinquent fees.

A few years ago, a state senator tried to ban associations from foreclosing on owners who owe less than $2,500 in fees. His bill failed due to opposition from condo boards.

Scraping by

For Ann Studen, the numbers just aren't adding up anymore. She has outlived her nest egg.

She lives alone in a one-bedroom condo in On Top of the World, a sprawling retirement community off U.S. 19 in Clearwater.

She moved here in 2006 from Queens, N.Y. A longtime tour guide for Gray Line bus tours, she mistakenly figured she would be able to land a full-time job here. She's still looking.

Her only companion is her lapdog Mimi, a curly-furred bichon frise from the pound. Her only family member is a son in Queens who has a one-bedroom apartment and his own financial difficulties.

She's had orthopedic problems. She has a rod in her back.

"When you're disabled and paying for nursing care, the money goes very quickly when you can't earn a proper living," she says.

She recently scored a temporary part-time job as a receptionist in the lobby of Clearwater's municipal services building. For some time before that, she had no work at all. That's when she really started falling behind.

Social Security isn't enough. She gets meals from a food bank. She's behind on her mortgage, but her bank has a moratorium on foreclosures. She can't sell her home because she owes more than it's worth.

The St. Vincent de Paul Society paid for two months of condo fees. But she fell behind again.

The letter came in November: You are hereby notified that On Top of the World Condominium Association … gives notice of its intention to foreclose a lien to collect unpaid assessments.

'It's awful'

On Top of the World is largely run by the family of its developer, Sidney Colen. Its 10,000 residents give the Colen family mixed reviews. Some think the Colens have too much control and the fees are too high. Others think it's an enjoyable and economical place to live.

Sidney Colen's nephew, Gerald Colen, is the condo association's lawyer. He sent Studen the foreclosure notice.

"We don't want to be taking people out of their homes. It's awful," he said in an interview. "The association works with people who are in a crunch."

He suggested that Studen contact him and try to work out a payment schedule.

Studen is reluctant to do so. Besides, she has little money. She now owes $1,842 for five months of maintenance fees, late charges and attorney's fees.

"I just want to plead mercy to the courts," she said. She's expecting to get a summons to a foreclosure hearing.

She's afraid to check the mail.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

Unpaid fees put Florida condo owners in foreclosure 01/10/09 [Last modified: Sunday, January 11, 2009 11:02pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Law firm's Russia ties prove nothing about Trump

    Business

    The statement

    "Law firm @POTUS used to show he has no ties to Russia was named Russia Law Firm of the Year for their extensive ties to Russia. Unreal."

    Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., stands during a media availability on Capitol Hill, Monday, June 20, 2016 in Washington. A divided Senate blocked rival election-year plans to curb guns on Monday, eight days after the horror of Orlando's mass shooting intensified pressure on lawmakers to act but knotted them in gridlock anyway — even over restricting firearms for terrorists. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
  2. Pasco county lawyer disbarred for taking woman's money

    Real Estate

    NEW PORT RICHEY — The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday disbarred Pasco County attorney and former congressional candidate Constantine Kalogianis.

    The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday disbarred Pasco County attorney and former congressional candidate Constantine Kalogianis. 
[2016 booking photo via Pasco County Sheriff's Office]
  3. Rick Scott signs package of tax breaks

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott signed a tax cut package Thursday that — while vastly scaled back from what he wanted — eliminates the so-called "tampon tax" and offers tax holidays for back-to-school shoppers and Floridians preparing for hurricane season.

    Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a tax cut package that will cost state coffers $91.6 million during the upcoming year. [Joe Raedle | Getty Images]
  4. FBI probes fraudster's alleged church scam following Tampa Bay Times report

    Real Estate

    PLANT CITY — Once again, the FBI is investigating felon fraudster Victor Thomas Clavizzao.

    The FBI is investigating convicted mortgage fraudster Victor Thomas Clavizzao on new allegations following a Tampa Bay Times report.
[TImes file photo]

  5. Tampa Bay is ground-zero for assignment of benefits cases over broken auto glass

    Banking

    When Rachel Thorpe tried to renew her auto insurance last year for her Toyta RAV4, she was stunned to see her monthly premium had nearly doubled to $600. The Sarasota driver was baffled since her only recent claim was over a broken windshield.

    Auto glass lawsuits filed by a third party (through what's known as assignment of benefits) are skyrocketing in Tampa Bay.
[Times file photo]