Florida’s community association managers are fighting a turf war — but the enemy this time isn’t mole crickets.
The managers are nervously awaiting a state Supreme Court decision on a proposal by the Florida Bar to say only lawyers should be able to perform 14 tasks now often practiced by the managers.
Meanwhile, a bill is close to being filed in the state House of Representatives that could frame the issue more to the managers’ liking.
The Bar’s just trying to muscle in on traditional manager activities, such as working on contracts for the association to hire builders or get cable TV, said Aaron Gordon, corporate general counsel for LM Funding LLC, which helps distressed condo associations deal with their financial problems.
But Bar officials say they’re seeing evidence that community managers aren’t always up to the jobs they’re fighting to keep.
Gordon said the real issue is money. “A community association manager’s usually going to charge you 20, 25 bucks, while a lawyer’s going to charge you 150 to 250 to do the same thing.”
That could be disastrous, he said, for some associations in areas such as Southwest Florida, where many communities are still just treading water financially in the aftermath of the housing collapse.
“There’s never been a case of unlicensed practice of law filed against a community association manager” by the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation, said Mark Benson, a longtime community manager in Fort Myers. “The whole thing reeks of some kind of intellectual exercise of some kind.”
But Lori Holcomb, the Bar’s director of client protection, said it’s misleading to say the state hasn’t filed any cases.
“That’s because they (department officials) send them to us” and some people go directly to the Bar with their grievances against managers, she said.
That’s why the Bar is standing behind its proposal, Holcomb said. “Certain things, we said, need a lawyer’s involvement.”
She also noted that the Bar’s proposal doesn’t just take away turf from the managers. The proposal recommends that managers be allowed to write pre-arbitration letters on an association’s behalf – something not addressed when the court last addressed the issue of managers’ duties in 1996.
Mark Anderson, LM’s lobbyist in Tallahassee, said a draft bill is likely to be introduced this week to the state House Civil Justice Committee, which is scheduled to take up the issue on Wednesday.
The Supreme Court is charged under the state constitution with defining what constitutes the practice of law, he said, but by spelling out the duties of community managers in greater detail the Legislature might protect them from charges of unlicensed practice of law, a third-degree felony with a penalty of up to five years in prison.