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After years of work, estoppel bill heads to governor

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We’ve been writing about it for years, all the while wondering ‘why,’ but 2017 was the winning session for an overhaul of the estoppel letter process.

The House on Friday passed the Senate’s bill (SB 398) on a 117-0 vote, sending it to Gov. Rick Scott.

“This legislation will benefit Florida’s homeowners, associations, and taxpayers,” said Mark Anderson, executive director of Chief Executive Officers of Management Companies (CEOMC). “We encourage Governor Scott to sign this good bill.”

Estoppel letters, or estoppel certificates, are an obscure part of some real estate closings.

They’re legal documents sent by a homeowners association, detailing any amount owed to the association. Usually, that’s unpaid fines or association fees left by owners who defaulted on their mortgage.

Title agents and Realtors have wanted to shift the cost of preparing such letters from themselves back to the associations. Anderson says preparing estoppel letters takes time and research, costing anywhere from $15 to $400.

Former state Sen. Gwen Margolis, a Miami-Dade Democrat, disputed that story when she was in the Legislature, saying all homeowners associations “do is punch a button on a computer … It’s been a ripoff for a while.”

Among other things, the bill going to Scott would allow an association “to charge a maximum fee of $250 for the preparation and delivery of an estoppel certificate, if there are no delinquent amounts owed to the association (and) an additional maximum fee of $150, if there is a delinquent amount owed to the association,” the bill analysis says.

PR man and communications savant Kevin Cate, in an effort to get people to pay attention to the issue, once rebranded it as “smashing the Home Tax.”

On Friday, he offered his final pun: “Homeowners never estoppeled believing.”

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Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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