With the 2018 hurricane season already upon us, and the National Hurricane Center predicting a near or above normal year, we can look back at the lessons learned from Hurricane Irma to ensure we are prepared this season.
Review your policies with the association’s insurance agent to ensure that the association’s properties are properly insured. Many times associations renew their policies without having their agent inspect the property to ensure all their property is covered. After Irma, some associations found themselves without coverage for certain items, even buildings, because no one took the time to examine the policy coverage with the Association’s inventory of property.
Law and ordinance coverage is another category where many associations were not covered. If the building code has changed and a repair is necessitated by a casualty, law and ordinance in the policy will cover the replacement cost for the item based on the new code. This arises frequently in older buildings where upgrades to the electrical, heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems are required by code when those items are replaced or repaired.
Above all, make sure your association understands its insurance obligations and repair requirements should a casualty occur. Condominium associations have stringent insurance requirements under the statute. Generally, the condominium association is responsible to insure and repair any item on the exterior of the condominium building, including the HVAC system, even if the item is typically the owner’s responsibility in non-casualty circumstances. This requirement can be shifted to the unit owner through an opt-out vote of the membership. Speak with your association’s legal counsel regarding amendments to the governing documents or the items necessary to legally opt-out of Florida Statute Chapter 718’s insurance requirements.
Put together a book of the association’s insurance policies. Save the policies electronically if possible. Ensure multiple Board Members have access. Contact a preferred restoration company now to have them familiarize themselves with the association’s property. Many of them will help the association with additional hurricane preparedness at no cost. Keep a list of bank account numbers. Safeguard the association’s financial records. Back up all of the information and documents on the cloud or server. Make an inventory list of all association property. Take pictures of all the buildings and property. If the association is a condominium, take pictures of any exterior HVAC systems or hurricane shutters to document the condition of those items.
Inspect the association’s landscaping with your landscaping company as certain techniques may reduce damage to association property when storms hit. Proper trimming will also facilitate easier debris removal after the storm. Bring potted plants and furniture indoors when a storm is imminent. Secure any other loose items. Lower pool levels.
Invite residents to a board meeting to discuss hurricane preparedness. The agenda can include discussions on possible evacuation routes and local shelters. Residents can also exchange contact information with one another. Valuable information can be distributed to the residents including the contact information for the management company, shelters, police and fire departments, and board members.
If your Association does not already have hurricane shutter specifications or protocol for deployment of shutters, there is still time to do so now before a storm approaches and there are no guidelines in place.
Associations should properly document all aspects of and promptly file their claim. However, in the rush to remediate the property and file its claims, associations should not overlook the importance of immediately reviewing their claim with its legal counsel to ensure their claim is properly handled. Additionally, associations should not execute any contract with post-storm vendors or public adjusters without the associations legal counsel reviewing the contract. Many of these vendor contracts contain inappropriate assignment of benefits clauses that effectively surrender the association’s claim to the vendor.
Similarly, while there are many professional and competent public adjusters, in times of disaster many communities feel pressured to act quickly and enter into contracts without fully understanding the ramifications of these agreements. Associations should understand that adjusters cannot litigate the claims should the carrier not pay and retaining an attorney may be necessary. That’s why having your legal counsel negotiate an end-point for a public adjuster’s services (e.g., one year from the date of loss, with an option to renew if progress is being made) and limit the fee to contractual recovery only, not fees, costs or extra-contractual damages. Again, do not sign any form or contract until you have had it reviewed by your legal counsel.
Do not wait to address these areas as it can get overwhelming when hurricanes are stacking up off the Florida coastline. Your board of directors can easily get prepared with help from the association’s management company, insurance agent, committee members, and your general counsel. While it is everyone’s hope that we will have a short and uneventful hurricane season, with a little preplanning, your association can weather any storm with ease and confidence.