I would like to recognize the extraordinary life of an icon in the field of condominium and homeowners’ association law. I am deeply saddened to announce the untimely passing of my long-time partner, co-founder of the Becker & Poliakoff law firm, and friend, Gary A. Poliakoff. Gary passed away on August 8, 2014, at age 69, after a two year battle with cancer.
I first met Gary in 1987, when he was interviewing me to work for the firm and open an office in Southwest Florida. He invited me to attend a “condo law seminar” he was putting on in Fort Myers. I still remember, as vividly as if it was yesterday, the rapt attention paid by the some 300 condo dwellers in the audience, listening to his talk on the latest changes to the laws. Most in the crowd were retirees, and they all wore the “I Speak Condo” buttons that had been passed out at the registration table. Always one for a turn of phrase, Gary also coined the term “Prescription Pets” in one of the earliest scholarly articles on the then-emerging legal phenomena of “emotional support animals”.
Gary pioneered many practices which law firms now take for granted, including newsletters and client seminars. Gary served as the Managing Shareholder from the firm’s inception in 1973, until 2008. In addition to managing the daily operations and growth of one of Florida’s largest law firms, he helped create a new area of law and devoted his practice almost entirely to condominium and homeowners’ association law, commonly known as community association law.
Gary Poliakoff’s leadership was recognized in Florida, nationally and internationally, through hundreds of published weekly newspaper columns, a national treatise for lawyers on condominium law, and numerous published law review articles. Gary held leadership positions in numerous organizations, including the national College of Community Association Lawyers. Recently, the College conferred upon Gary its prestigious Gurdon Hall Buck Award, recognizing lifetime achievements in the community association legal field, an award which has been only presented to three Fellows in the history of the College.
During his career, Gary provided testimony before the United States Senate on abuses in consumer housing development, and was invited to assist post-communist countries with their transition from state housing to private ownership after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Closer to home, Gary served on the Florida Advisory Council on Condominiums and the Florida Condominium Law Study Commission.
Gary was an Adjunct Professor of Condominium Law at the Shepard Broad Law Center of Nova Southeastern University for many years, and was recognized with the Chair for Outstanding Adjunct Professor in 2008. Gary spearheaded the incorporation of his longtime neighborhood, Southwest Ranches, and served for ten years as its Town Attorney. He was named as a Broward County “Pioneer”, by its Board of County Commissioners.
As one of our former partners recently noted in a tribute to Gary, he was The Man.
Gary inspired an entire generation of lawyers to embrace the field of community association law, and did so in his unique style. From his ubiquitous bow tie to his unique brand of Southern drawl, he was a memorable presence. He never did anything at half speed.
I know that one of Gary’s proudest accomplishments was the publication of his latest book, “New Neighborhoods: A Consumer’s Guide to Condo, Co-op, and HOA Living”, which he co-wrote with his son, author and lawyer, Ryan Poliakoff. Gary leaves behind his wife of 47 years, Sherri Poliakoff, sons (and fellow lawyers) Ryan and Keith, their spouses, and several grandchildren.
Having myself practiced exclusively in the field of community association law for the past 27 years, I can say without reservation that no single person has had a bigger impact on Florida’s housing laws than Gary Poliakoff. A man of very humble beginnings, Gary never forgot that law is a people business, and that the practice of law is not always about business.
I can only hope that the generation of community association lawyers he leaves behind try to follow in those footsteps.