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Liberty and the Light Bill : Condo Wars: Anything but Retiring

June 19, 1989|BARRY BEARAK | Times Staff Writer

PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. — Where the hell are the bills and receipts? Where, where? They keep making special assessments--$5 here and $10 there. It adds up, don't let anybody kid you. And they never let you see the books. What--you're supposed to trust them? They sneak around like ants at a picnic.

My wife keeps saying, relax, you came here to retire and all you do is go to meetings. But who can help it? Is it so crazy to want to know where the money goes? Somebody has to stand up to these people. Liars! Smoothies! Can I say it? Finaglers!

Jack Newman is talking. Or it could be Arthur Zank. Or Sol Shaffer. Any one of the dissidents. Yes, there are dissidents. This is a condominium: Century Village in Pembroke Pines. The brochure says it is a place "where living has no limits." Of course there are dissidents.

Condo Politics

Forget Democrats and Republicans. The most ferocious politics in America go on between the unit owners of condominiums. How could it be different? In a condo, you own the apartment, but the rest is held "in common," from the chlorine in the pool to the weeds under the shrubs.

How can a man's home be his castle when he shares the moat and drawbridge with partners? The common good is not every man's ideal, after all. You should see some people. They open their front doors and fan in the air conditioning from the hallways. Stealing the cool!

Of course, it would be wrong to knock it altogether. Some 16 million Americans live in condos, and many think it is wonderful. Let them come to South Florida. What goes on!

Wild Board Meetings

Board meetings get so wild, people have dropped dead. And the elections. They fight for proxies like piranhas. Experts blame retirees for this tumult--no matter where they're from or what they once did.

"Some of them sit around and read the Condo Act all day," says Alex Knight, chief of the state's Bureau of Condominiums. "They have time to fight. Condo politics is like a hobby."

But what the hell do bureaucrats know? Hobby? This is a hobby? This is not mountains from molehills. A condo association's management budget can involve hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Down here, many of the condo developments are like small cities. There are 8,000 people in 75 buildings at Century Village in Pembroke Pines, west of Ft. Lauderdale.

They have their own lake and 18-hole golf course and billiard room with 25 tables. And dances and live entertainment and mah-jongg club.

And two political factions that get along like the Monitor and the Merrimac. Welcome to the aggravation.

Dissident Owners

"Where the hell are the bills and receipts?" Jack Newman, 70, wants to know. It is a rhetorical question. The paper work of the recreation building might as well be sacred papyrus from the Fertile Crescent, so well is it hidden from inspection.

Newman is sitting among the dissidents in Arthur Zank's condo. Arthur, 61, the unofficial leader, rises to secure more potato chips. He says, "99% of the people don't care about any of this, but we care."

Sol Shaffer, 63, at Arthur's side, gives the overview. "Worst deal in the history of Florida," he says. He is not sure that is dramatic enough: "This may sound like bull, but we believe in freedom and justice for everyone."

This is why the dissidents call their newspaper the We the People News. It comes out once a month, and you can find people reading it in the clubhouse--retirement living's very own notes from the underground.

Editorials are so venomous they ought to print antidotes beside them instead of the usual recipes for stuffed cabbage and ads for podiatrists.

"Forty years ago we fought a war to make sure this type of thing could not happen . . . " reads one of them as it picks up steam. "Now is the time to stand up and be counted among the Good Guys."

Seek New Management

So what do the We the People people want? For one thing, they want to bring in a new management company instead of the one that was left behind by the developer. Management? You call this management?

"We know for a fact the lawns are supposed to be mowed 31 times, and we know for a fact they only mowed them 24 times," says Sol Shaffer, retired from his greeting card and jewelry businesses.

"They tell us sometimes it rained--we couldn't mow--and that's an act of God. So why are we paying for acts of God?"

And they want their own auditors to review the books of the recreation building.

Conniving Management?

Most of all, they want to end the connivance between young Steve Kittredge, the developer's project director, and Kitty Thibault, president of mighty COOPPA, the Condominium Owners of Pembroke Pines Assn.

One hand washes the other, and that's a dirty business, complains Arthur Zank: "If your window gets broken by a golf ball, try getting it fixed unless you're a friend of COOPPA's. Lots of luck to you without help from Kitty."

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