The 2021 collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium building in Surfside, Florida resulted in almost a hundred deaths. The causes of the building collapse were many and still openly contested, ranging from structural flaws present when the building was initially erected, work done at an adjacent building weakening the already compromised condo, and corrosion and overcrowded concrete reinforcement, just to name a few. What isn’t in dispute is that there were signs of significant problems long before the disaster, including a 2018 engineering report finding major structural damage that required repair to maintain the structural integrity of the building. Yet the repairs were delayed for three more years as the condo board and residents wrangled over the cost and financing; three months before the collapse, the board approved seeking a $15 million line of credit. As of the date of the collapse, work had not yet started.
Sadly, the issues leading to the delay of condo repairs are not isolated to Champlain Towers. Condominium structures have unique challenges when it comes to maintenance which can make building upkeep problematic. Some common issues include:
Unskilled board members. Condo board members often do not have a background in accounting, financing, or engineering which would aid in some facet of interpreting building conditions, or budgeting/financing to make necessary repairs possible, making understanding the necessity of repairs (or getting money to do the work) more challenging.
Inadequate building reserves. While condo owners pay monthly association fees, the fees often cover only the basics of maintenance, such as grounds keeping, pool upkeep, painting, cleaning of common areas, and garbage removal. Part of the collected fees also go towards reserve accounts to cover any larger repairs, such as roof replacement. However, condo associations reserve accounts are routinely underfunded, so when a large repair becomes necessary, residents are on the hook for special assessments that can be more than $100,000 per resident.
Politics. Condo board members are elected, and key to staying on the board can often mean kicking the can for unpopular fee increases or special assessments for repairs down the line. Things can get particularly ugly when repairs require hefty special assessments – angry condo owners can dispute the need for the repairs, file suit, or even vote to recall the board, with each step adding delays to action, and likely increasing the ultimate cost to repair.
Transparency is the answer
When problems are not readily visible to condo residents, it’s easier to delay fixing even significant, dangerous known issues. Information from inspections that uncover issues needs to be able to be compiled then shared in a format easily understood by the laypeople making the decisions, and ultimately paying for repairs. Sharing photos and videos of issues can make the case more eloquently than any condo board president ever could. While no one enjoys five- or six-digit special assessments, being able to physically see the problems can help to ensure that repairs become a priority, can help to ensure that work is performed in a timely fashion, and disasters are avoided.
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