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Written by Jay Beskin, BT Contributor   
May 2017

Why would a condo board pull a broadband switcheroo?

Ibigstock-Aventura-Florida-Condo-Develop-3401593f you’re ever at a loss in a social situation in Aventura (or in any comparable South Florida municipalities), desperate for some subject of common interest to join people in a bit of chatter, there’s always one surefire path to full engagement. Just start talking about the wisdom -- or lack thereof -- of the board in your condominium complex or homeowners association.

If you want to see epithets fly higher than the tallest buildings, your wish will be fulfilled in no time at all. The terms of enragement will start with “condo commandos” and escalate from there.

In fact, this tragicomic scene does play out frequently. For example, the press reports that someone has likened a public figure to Hitler or said that some group or policy was reminiscent of the Nazis or of Nazi behavior. In a flash, Jewish organizations put out statements to protest the overuse of “Nazi” as a symbol for all things iniquitous. They remind us that the term must be shielded from the cavalier usage that threatens its potency as the ultimate expression of man’s inhumanity to man.

But wouldn’t you know, shortly afterward, in the lobby of the high-rise, several residents are discussing the story. They too condemn the careless invoking of “Nazi” for petty infractions or irritations.

“By the way, Sam, did you hear the board raised our monthly maintenance fee?”

“What? How dare they? Those Nazis!”

Why do the antics of condo boards drive residents to such excesses of rhetoric? It’s hard to say. Perhaps some enterprising doctoral candidate in sociology might be able to put together a dissertation. Or maybe some earnest young filmmaker can create a documentary. Whether this is a mystery for the ages or something we can figure out by applying our gray cells is difficult to determine.

What we can say for sure is that the phenomenon is real. Ordinary people from various walks of life step into the world of the condo and find themselves in a kind of twilight zone, transformed into surly, snarling maximalists ready for a fight to the death over every jot and title in the bylaws.

This demonic possession overtakes both the sitting board and the residents in good standing, and with equal ferocity. The board squeezes every dime, and the tenants pinch every penny.

Nor does political affiliation temper any of the insanity. People who defend the rights of “sanctuary cities” to defy the federal government will not offer a plugged nickel’s worth of sanctuary to a tenant behind on his dues. People who defend every embryo against abortion will make the lives of fellow tenants a living hell if they defy the orders from the duly elected board. There are no Democrats or Republicans, only swarming predators bent on power and domination.

In the burly ballet known as professional wrestling, there is something called a Texas Death Match, a no-holds-barred contest in which the two contenders try their hardest to overwhelm each other. I watched some of those as a kid, and I can assure you they are child’s play compared to the Florida Death Match acted out regularly in our condo boards and homeowner associations.

If you do not recognize the world I am depicting, you need not read on. If you and your neighbors live in bliss and harmony, and you believe there is no more perfect union than your condo board, far be it from me to jolt you from your cocoon. If Pollyanna doesn’t want a cracker and she parrots the party line, let us leave her unspoiled in her small circle of innocence. But if you can totally relate, stick with me and leave your dial tuned right here.

The latest imbroglio is acting itself out in a certain development in the Waterways neighborhood in Aventura. It shall go unnamed. The building appears to have a calm cast, but beneath it runs a broad band of discontent. After years of using Comcast to supply the building with cable services, the board is moving to replace it with Atlantic Broadband. My sources tell me there is no history of poor service or complaints among residents. As far as anyone can tell, it ain’t broke, so why fix it?

Unless of course the building is broke and the process is fixed. Over the years a culture of collusion -- dare we call it corruption? -- has emerged in which companies make lump-sum bonus payments to the building to obtain those lucrative contracts. The preferred euphemism is “key money,” an entry code to replace a moral code. The company writes a large check to the building as a collective, so it can collect, largely without checks and balances.

While no one in a million years would ever suspect board members of pocketing some of that money, and no one can ever remember a single scandal around here where board members were raiding the till, this still strikes us as falling a tad below the threshold of “best practices.” It takes a good deal of faith to see a deal like that as being done in good faith. I am not saying we need to lock the door, but I do think we should throw away the key.

Yet even if we hold our noses and tolerate a one-time purchase of that kind of access, selling the same rug over and over again is certainly a problem. Every few years, we should take a new payment from a new company to pull the rug out from under the last company with the last payment? Somehow the idea of forming cooperatives to live in communal structures is tainted by using the combined purchasing power to shake down vendors.

I suspect much of this would be eliminated if commercial decisions of this magnitude would be taken by referendum, rather than by an elected board. This is where democracy works better than a republic. I read my Burke in school, and I understand why having representatives make the big decisions works for large governmental bodies, preventing the masses from obeying their worst impulses and ruling as a mob. But in these smaller, closer-to-home groupings, I think the incentives are reversed.

The individual owners of the units, voting at a meeting of all the residents, are less likely to engage in shady behavior. Instead, these boards are the ones who need to be prevented from obeying their worst impulses and ruling as a clique.

I hold no brief for Comcast or against Atlantic Broadband; this article would apply word for word if their positions were reversed. But if “Comcast” stands for communal casting of votes, then I’m all for it.

 

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