The tragedy of the lives lost and the devastation of the recent condominium collapse in Surfside, Florida is being felt by everyone. Questions that keep coming up when thinking about the immeasurable loss are, how could this have happened? How can it be prevented from happening again? Is there something more we should be doing to keep our condo members/tenants safe? After an unfathomable tragedy like this, one cannot help but start to examine how this can be avoided elsewhere. The brainstorming that comes after such a tragedy is one way of focusing the immeasurable grief in a positive direction. There are no words to properly convey the sorrow felt when reflecting on the innocent people lost, but perhaps there are profound steps that can be taken to avoid this type of suffering again.
If you are thinking of having your condominium building reviewed by an engineer for structural soundness, do not put it off any longer. This is a great way to give your members peace of mind that the board is keenly aware of the need for building maintenance. If you do not have one already, put a schedule in place to have the building structure reviewed periodically. Consult with your management team and attorney to discuss the process and timing of such a review. The requirement for a structural building assessment could easily become a requirement after this devastating event. We could certainly see insurance companies requiring such a report in order to offer coverage in the future.
If you have not had a reserve study done recently, get that accomplished as well. Find out what the life expectancy is for the major components of the condominium or HOA that the association is responsible to maintain. The reserve study will also provide you with the recommended dollar amount that will be necessary to make the repair or replacement of the common components of the association.
If you do not have the necessary funds or are not putting the required money into the reserve accounts (either thru a membership vote to waive this funding or simple oversight), make a financial plan to do so. Budget season is just around the corner so there is still time to add these amounts to your proposed budget for 2022. Consult with your accountant and attorney to make sure the financial needs of the community are being met so that repairs can be made without significant financial output by the membership (such as a high special assessment.)
Another thought coming out of this horrible event is the need to communicate between board members and from the old board to the new board. One of the hardest things to do is to put aside bad feelings (especially when one has just lost an election) and share information with the person or people who have taken over as the new board. We have all had the feeling of “you think you can do it better, then prove it” that comes from losing a race. These thoughts and feelings can be even harder to work around when you consider being on the board is a volunteer position and most board members are there to give their time to their community. Work with your management team to put together a list of key items to be addressed over the next year, 2 years, 5 years, 10 years. Review the list periodically and make sure it is shared with the next board so they can focus on these items as well.
Do Not Defer Maintenance
Listen to the professionals and act. While common areas are clearly the association’s responsibility, there are other areas to keep an eye on, especially balconies in high-rise condos. Ensure all structural components of your buildings are timely maintained or repaired. The Champlain Towers association received an engineering report with warnings about structural damage in 2018, but reports indicate the bulk of a $12 million repair project had yet to commence before the collapse.
While the search and rescue efforts continue, our hearts and prayers go out to all involved. The loss is profound and one that we hope can be avoided in the future.