The 2021 collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside, Florida, tragically resulted in nearly a hundred deaths. This disaster raised serious concerns about condo safety.
The causes of the collapse were varied and are still debated. They include structural flaws from the building’s construction, impact from nearby construction, and issues like corrosion and concrete overcrowding. However, what’s clear is that warning signs existed long before the collapse. A 2018 engineering report identified major structural damage requiring repairs for maintaining the building’s integrity. Despite these warnings, repairs were delayed for three years due to disputes over costs and financing among the condo board and residents. Just three months before the collapse, the board had approved a $15 million line of credit, but work had not begun at the time of the disaster.
The reasons behind repair delays
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.
Condo board members, who are elected, sometimes avoid unpopular decisions like fee increases or special assessments for repairs. This strategy can be crucial for their continued board membership. Situations often become contentious when extensive repairs necessitate significant special assessments. In such cases, condo owners may challenge the necessity of repairs, initiate legal action, or even move to recall the board. Each of these actions contributes to further delays in taking action. These delays not only postpone necessary repairs but also tend to increase the ultimate repair costs.
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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