Los Sueños, a 13-building, 396-unit condominium complex on Hialeah’s west side – takes its name from the Spanish word for ‘dream,’ but the outcome of its November 2015 owners’ association board election was a nightmare. Although each unit had one vote, a total of 457 votes was cast – somehow, the complex had mysteriously gained 61 additional units… and the election was highly suspect.
The Miami Herald reported that half the votes were thrown out, including 174 duplicates. The losing candidates complained to the state agency that regulates common-interest communities: The Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares, and Mobile Homes in the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation (DBPR).
Condo election fraud and other administrative irregularities have reached a long time high, and over 30% originate from Miami-Dade County. However, this situation is not isolated to Miami – there is a rising phenomenon of this activity sweeping the nation.
“Punishment against individual directors is rare. I am not aware of any criminal cases prosecuted in Florida,” says Lisa A. Mafill, an attorney who is of counsel to the Kaye Bender Rembaun law firm in Pompano Beach and a Fellow of the College of Community Association Lawyers. That’s not the case elsewhere; recent cases in Pike County, Pennsylvania, and Las Vegas, Nevada, have indeed resulted in criminal convictions.
In Florida, three sets of rules apply to board elections. Condominiums (Chapter 718 of the Florida Statutues) and cooperatives (Chapter 719) have “very rigid procedures for administering their annual elections,” says Eric M. Glazer, founding partner of the law firm Glazer* Associates, P.A., in Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando.” At least 60 days before, the association mist send out notice of the annual meeting, and ask if anyone is interested in running for the board.”
The traditional voting method involves paper ballots. “The unit owner checks off his choices, and puts the ballot in an inner envelop marked BALLOT ONLY,” Glazer explains. “That envelope is then placed into a larger envelope that the unit owner must sign. On the night of the election, the signatures on the exterior envelope are verified and the votes are counted”.
Election fraud in a common-interest community may take many forms. “Devious minds are more creative than you may imagine,” Magill says.
“The most common types of fraud usually involve forging signatures on ballots, stuffing ballot boxes, and discarding ballots when the outer envelopes reveal the name of someone whose vote is not desired,” says Donna Di Maggio Berger, a shareholder with the law firm of Becker & Poliakoff in Ft. Lauderdale. “The skills needed to undertake any of these activities are not terribly high. The average teenager is fairly adept at forging a signature, and it takes little effort to throw away a ballot.”