By Beth Kassab, The Orlando Sentinel
A state arbitrator on Friday sided with a homeowner who challenged the way Poinciana’s homeowners association, one of the largest in the state, held its election of board members.
The arbitrator threw out the Association of Poinciana Villages’ results from a February election and ordered the group to hold a new election in August for the sprawling community of 26,000 homes in Osceola and Polk counties.
In question was whether Avatar, Poinciana’s developer and still a significant landowner, could cast one vote for every house it says it could potentially one day build on land it owns that is still undeveloped.
As a result of that practice, Avatar has been able to elect its representatives to the HOA board and maintain control over the 44-year-old community of more than 50,000 people, including the collection of fees, argued homeowner Martin Negron, who filed the complaint against the association.
He claimed he lost the February election because Avatar improperly cast more votes than it should have by claiming it could build hundreds of homes on land that is covered by marsh and wetlands. The association is made up of nine villages, which all conduct elections.
The order said counting so many votes for construction that may not be approved by the local county government “improperly diluted the votes of other members of all the associations.”
“Avatar may not maintain control of the sub-associations and thereby the association in perpetuity by an imaginary regulatory scheme where maximum density is the only law applicable to building a home,” wrote Terri Leigh Jones, an arbitrator with the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which oversees HOA elections.
Jeffrey Smith, an attorney with the Orlando Law Group who represented Negron, said the order is a win for the little guy — the people who own homes in Poinciana.
“It gives much more power and sets a good precedent for the members so they can control the community in which they live and not leave it up to some large corporation,” he said. “At least it puts the members on a fairer playing field with the developer.”
Avatar must now provide proof that it’s able under local and state codes to build the number of homes it uses to determine the amount of votes it will cast, according to the order.
A spokeswoman for the association said officials are still reviewing the order and did not provide immediate comment.
A separate lawsuit filed by three homeowners is challenging the association in Polk Circuit Court, while homeowners in another Avatar community, Solivita, also are suing the developer.
Keith Laytham, a resident of Solivita and an advocate for residents throughout Poinciana, called the arbitrator’s ruling a win.
“Fasten your seat belt because we ain’t done yet,” he said.