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Owners bicker over how condo is run

By CRISTINA SILVA, Times Staff Writer
Published August 19, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - Between the Georgian-style brick walls, manicured lawns and stunning views of the Sunshine Skyway bridge, the Velvet Cloake condominium seems to be a tranquil setting with little to complain about.

But residents here have drawn battle lines in recent months and are fighting for control of the 91-unit building on Pinellas Point Drive. The fracas has led to unpleasant run-ins in the once friendly 55-years-old and up community.

"It has divided the whole community here," said Irene Corbin, 80, vice president and secretary of the condominium board. "There have been threats. People have filed police reports. It has been miserable for us."

At issue is the way the board has been running elections and how Rampart Properties has managed the property.

"Every time we ask the board members about what has been going on, they just say, 'I don't know,' or 'You are not entitled to know,' " said unit owner Joseph Lansberry, 65. "It's not right."

State statue clearly lays out how condominium boards and management companies should operate.

Danille R. Carroll, ombudsman for the state Office of the Condominium Ombudsman, said it is common for condominium boards to transfer many of their powers to management companies, but that they probably shouldn't.

"Sometimes people do things wrong, not because they want to do things wrong, but sometimes they just don't know," she said "In the end, the board will be held responsible for the management company's actions."

Rampart Properties has an "unsatisfactory record" with the Better Business Bureau due to "two or more unresolved complaints," according to the bureau.

Corbin and other some residents said Rampart has done a fine job and complain the complainers are simply upset because they aren't on the board themselves.

"They are talking like we are falling apart, and we are not," she said.

The conflict started after a recent meeting, when a policy change concerning rental units was not approved by unit owners. Rampart allegedly directed the board to table the issue until they received enough votes to pass the measure. The board later told unit owners that they had secured enough votes, though no public vote was held.

"How can you add votes after the fact?" Lansberry asked, recalling the incident.

Marlene Shaw, who oversees Velvet Cloake for Rampart, said the state allows the board to tally absentee votes.

Then, after two board members resigned, Corbin, who was elected as secretary, became the vice president, as well. The board opted not to fill the position of president, she said.

However, Kenneth Goad, another board member, said Corbin is the president, vice president and secretary. Either way, state statue dictates that the board needs to have a proper president.

"If people resign, the board can appoint people to be in those positions," Carroll said.

Patrick McShane, 57, said he was denied admittance to the board meetings, even after his 87-year-old father-in-law granted him power of attorney over his unit. The board told McShane only unit owners could attend the meeting.

If McShane really had power of attorney, he should have been admitted to the meetings, Carroll said.

Shaw said the board acted based on their attorney's recommendation.

Cristina Silva can be reached at 727 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.

Fast Facts:

State can help

Having problems with your condominium board? Call the state Office of the Condominium Ombudsman at (850) 922-7671.