(WSVN) - A group of investors got on the board of a condo association, approved a large special assessment and said it had to be paid by unit owners by Aug. 1. Can they do that? Find out in tonight’s Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

Arbor Key is a nice affordable condo complex in Tamarac.

Maria Chaux: “I’ve lived here for a long time. I like the place.”

The 232 condos are also on a big chunk of real estate that developers would love to have.

Patrick Fraser: “Trying to take the property away?”

Harvey Brown: “That’s right, exactly.”

Harvey came to that conclusion after four people bought around 50 units at Arbor Key condo, got themselves elected to the board, and in late June passed a special assessment of over $5.1 million that the owners have to pay in a lump sum.

Harvey Brown: “Twenty-two thousand [dollars]. I’ve got to come up with that by August 1st.”

That’s right. Each condo owner has until Aug. 1st to pay between $20,000 and $24,000 for the assessment.

Maria Chaux: “We don’t have that money.”

That’s impossible for Maria, who struggles to survive on her $1,100-a-month retirement.

Maria Chaux: “You see, I have very low income. It’s hard for us.”

If they don’t pay it all by Aug. 1st, the residents were told, they will be sent to collections.

Harvey Brown: “I said they might be crazy. That’s the only thing come to my mind. I say these people are crazy.”

Iris Gonzalez owns two units at Arbor Key and was once on the board.

Among the repairs: the roof, the pool, the awnings. They are needed, she says, but it will take a couple of years to do the work, and she says the residents should be given those two years to pay for the assessment.

Iris Gonzalez: “Little by little with payment plans, so people can breathe, not to choke the people, because not everyone has the same economic position as some investors.”

Already the owners like Maria and Harvey are getting called by a Realtor who says she represents an unnamed buyer who wants to purchase their condo.

Ernesto, who owns a couple of units here, says he can see what’s going on.

Ernesto Cuellar: “They want to put as many people as they can in foreclosure. Once the property goes up to the market, they will buy it, and they will buy it cheap.”

Good for the investors, who might even tear the condos down and put in higher priced buildings on the acres of land.

Ernesto Cuellar: “They want to maximize their profit, and they don’t care for who are they damaging on the way.”

Well, Howard, what can a condo owner do when a board makes decisions that could cost them their home?

Howard Finkelstein: “The simple solution: recall the board and throw them out along with their lump sum special assessment. The second solution: go to court, show a judge what you think is going on, and have the judge remove the board and temporarily appoint someone to straighten things out at the property.”

I started checking. Companies owned by one board member, Benjamin Jones, own at least 40 units, paying anywhere from $85,000 to around $115,000 per unit.

I emailed and called him. He wouldn’t respond.

Only the fifth board member would talk. Alberto Conde told me he voted against the special assessment, that he was resigning from the board because what is being done to the owners is not right.

Iris Gonzalez: “Give the people a payment plan.”

It’s what the owners who are not wealthy investors want. It’s what they need to stay in their condos.

Harvey Brown: “Every day I have sleepless nights since I got this letter. I don’t know what to do.”

Well, he might be sleeping better soon. The 180 owners like Harvey are fighting back and doing what Howard suggested. They are going to try to recall the board, and they have hired an attorney if they have to go to court.

We’re seeing this happen in a lot of condo complexes, so we’ll let you know who wins this battle over the buildings in case your complex is facing the same kind of takeover.

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With this Help Me Howard, I’m Patrick Fraser, 7News.

CONTACT HELP ME HOWARD:
Email: helpmehoward@wsvn.com
Reporter: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com
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