Lawyers ensure job-security for themselves

300-MARINA-CONDOSA large percentage of St Johns County residents live in “gated communities” or condominiums; where common elements are maintained and the administration of the responsibilities between the owners, individually, and the community, as a whole, are managed by a state-licensed professional known as a “Community Association Manager”, or CAM.

In the spirit of full disclosure; let me say that, almost eight years ago, on January 27, 2006, I qualified, completed the required training, and sat for my state examination to become a licensed Community Association Manager in Florida. Until my last renewal date, I returned, every year, to complete the continuing education requirements needed to keep my license current and active. My license number is CAM28587.

I’ve lived in two such communities in St Johns County; Sawgrass Country Club in Ponte Vedra Beach, and Las Palmas on the Intracoastal — a 328-unit gated community inside the City of St Augustine, where I was elected President of the condominium association for two terms.

My interest was piqued as I read about a decision, currently pending before the Florida Supreme Court at the behest of the Florida Bar, which to me, looks like nothing more than a case of lawyers taking care of lawyers.

If the Court decides in favor of The Florida Bar, it will do nothing to protect the homeowner — and everything to ensure that more lawyers will be needed to administer the day-to-day affairs of these communities — at a higher cost. Their argument is based largely on the same old horse that lawyers drag out and beat whenever they figure there is a buck to be made.

The “Unlicensed Practice of Law” is serious — as is unlicensed practice of medicine, public accounting, private investigation, or any of the other “regulated professions” in Florida. Lawyers just seem to think that performance of quasi-judicial activities, taken in the ordinary course of business, is somehow a little MORE serious; even if taken under the supervision and guidance of subject-matter experts who have been trained and licensed to undertake them.

The fact is that there are more than 18,500 individual community association managers in the state. The work they do for their associations includes preparing budgets, hiring maintenance workers, and preparing contracts and other legal papers.

The Standing Committee on the Unlicensed Practice of Law issued an opinion to the Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section of The Florida Bar in May; declaring any activity requiring an interpretation of statute, legal analysis or description of real property, to be the unlicensed practice of law if conducted by someone who is not a lawyer. The opinion was submitted to the Florida Supreme Court for approval and is pending a decision.

If approved as written, in addition to hiring a lawyer for legal matters, all associations will need to hire a lawyer to prepare form documents like a “certificate of assessment”, or to draft amendments to the bylaws, or to determine how many votes are needed to establish a quorum, or pass a motion, or to prepare vendor contracts or construction liens.

The Florida Bar says that they are relying on a 1996 opinion, in this latest skirmish, that licensed Community Association Managers will perform “ministerial” duties for homeowner associations — but will not provide legal counsel; including the interpretations of statutes.

On the other side, the state licensing board wrote a letter to The Florida Bar last year expressing concern that if more of the activities, currently performed by Community Associations Managers, are to be considered “unlicensed practice of law”, it would make their regulation confusing.

Just what we need — more lawyers; as if managing the tempers of non-profit homeowners associations, and their volunteer boards of directors, weren’t contentious enough.

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