HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) —Disturbed by what he has witnessed at University Village retirement community, state Senator Tom Lee (R) – Hillsborough County, wants to give the state more power to deal with errant owners and protect retirees.
“There was a lot of self dealing that was going on in the University Village case, where owners were executing management contracts with friends and family for commercially unreasonable fees,” the senator told WFLA.
Senator Lee has introduced legislation that allows the Office of Insurance regulation to stop unqualified and under financed owners from taking over continuing care retirement communities and bleeding them dry.
He was at the University Village to meet with residents.
“They’ve invested their life savings in this facility and they slowly, surely and methodically watched the facility deteriorate at the hands of an owner who purchased the facility for the specifically for the purposes to bleed the facility of any equity, to benefit the owner,” he said.
The bill would treat owners of continuing care retirement communities more like insurance companies. Under Florida law, reserved funds are required to protect policy holders from insurance carriers writing contracts without adequate reserves to pay claims.
Lee’s bill would require CCRC’s to set up reserve funds.
“Right now so many people are worried,” said resident Mickey Castor.
There are growing concerns over an ownership group associated with John Bartle, which put University Village in bankruptcy court. Bartle is connected to similar ventures in other states.
Mickey Castor and her late husband Judge Don Castor, invested in this continuing care retirement community 5 years ago. It cost them a lot of money. But in return, they got peace of mind.
“University Village’s pledge to us, that we will be cared for at whatever level we require,” explained Ms. Castor.
That could be in the form of an independent apartment, assisted living or the village nursing home.
Then Bartle’s group took over.
Some residents moved out. Their refunds went unpaid.
“And they have not shown us that they have our best interests at heart,” stated Ms. Castor.
The state didn’t think so either. It’s tried unsuccessfully to oust the new owners.
The facility’s future now lies in the hands of a bankruptcy judge.
Senator Lee’s bill would also allow the state to place a community into receivership instead of allowing owners to go into bankruptcy.
He says in this case the courts have been used by the owners as weapons against the residents.
Whatever happens Mickey Castor plans to stay at University Village.
She and others will continue work to maintain the quality of life that exists, and hopefully restore the peace of mind lost.
“Then we can be relaxed and be retired again,” she said.
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