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Articles Posted in Renovation Projects

The Community Associations Institute, the leading organization representing the interests of condominium associations and HOAs, is considering several policy reform recommendations on matters such as building inspections as well as reserve studies and funding in the wake of the devastating tragedy of the Champlain Towers South collapse in Surfside, Fla.

According to a recent post in its Ungated blog at blog.caionline.org, the organization’s Government and Public Affairs Committee convened a special meeting recently to hear the recommendations from three task forces on new public policy reforms as well as best practices and guidance for local, state and federal legislators.

CAI-logoThe three task forces focused on building inspections and maintenance; reserve study and funding plans; and insurance and risk management. They have recommended that the committee focus on reforms such as having developers provide a preventive maintenance schedule for all components that are the responsibility of the community association, not just the components included in the reserve study. They also recommended baseline inspections and regular inspections based on specific intervals, the protocols for which can be found in the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Guideline for Structural Condition Assessment of Existing Buildings, and disclosures of the findings to homeowners, residents and local governments.

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berenice-m-mottin-berger-2021-300x300LTLehr-2018-Siegfried-Rivera-200x300An article authored by the firm’s Lindsey Thurswell Lehr and Berenice Mottin-Berger was featured as the guest commentary column in the online edition of today’s Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper, and will soon appear in the print edition.  The article, which is titled “Funding Community Association Repairs and Renovations,” concentrates on how the funding of long-term condominium maintenance, repair and replacement projects has become a major focus at many communities across the country after the horrific tragedy of the collapse in Surfside, Fla.  It notes that many association board members who previously might have avoided increasing monthly assessments and implementing large special assessments are now looking to evaluate and address the inevitable deterioration of their buildings.  Lindsey and Berenice’s article reads:

. . . Rather than kicking the can down the road in hopes that future boards will address worsening maintenance concerns, association directors are coming to terms with the fact that delayed repairs and maintenance are likely to exacerbate structural problems and increase the eventual costs, in addition obviously to the potential life-safety risks, to be borne by the owners. dbr-logo-300x57As never before, association boards and unit owners have become keenly aware of the importance of maintaining adequate financial reserves to fund future construction projects.

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Eduardo-Valdes-srhl-lawAn article authored by firm partner Eduardo J. Valdes is featured in the op-ed “Opinions” page of today’s South Florida Sun Sentinel.  The article, which is titled “Post-Surfside, condo associations must be proactive with change | Opinion,” focuses on the impact that the horrific tragedy of the Champlain Towers South collapse has had on the condominium associations for similar towers nationwide and their boards of directors.  Eduardo notes that in addition to the shared grief and remorse with the families and friends of all the victims, many condo owners across the country are now raising questions about their own buildings’ structural safety and financial health, and some have also begun to feel more concerned about the funding of reserve accounts for major repairs and replacement projects.  His article reads:

 . . . All buildings deteriorate over time, so associations should always set aside funding on an ongoing basis to mitigate and remediate any structural elements that require attention.

As they begin reassessing their associations’ commitments, condominium boards of directors will generally try to avoid special assessments demanding additional funds from all the unit owners. They will need to consult with legal, financial, engineering and insurance professionals to strike a balance between the funding of reserves and the use of special assessments when they become necessary from a life-safety standpoint.

Sun_Sentinel_Logo-300x97Condominium association directors and unit-owner members would also be well advised to come to terms with the new reality that future buyers will now have many more questions and concerns than in the past about the financial health of the association and current state of the actual property from the ground up. Some will surely request that sellers provide them with the minutes from prior board meetings, information on any past or planned special assessments, the status of renovation and remediation projects, past changes to the monthly assessments over the years, the findings of past reserve studies, and the status of current reserve funding. They are also now more likely to conduct a thorough visual inspection of the entire property prior to making a written offer.

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The recent tragedy in Surfside, Fla., has significantly impacted our firm and the communities we serve. Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers remain with the victims and families affected by the Champlain Towers South collapse.

In the aftermath of this horrific catastrophe, many condominium association directors, members and managers have raised various questions concerning the safety and stability of their own buildings. Our firm’s other South Florida community association attorneys and I have been responding to many of these inquiries regarding the process of assessing building structural and mechanical elements, and undergoing any repairs and restorations as needed.

constdefect1Because buildings age and mature differently, with possible conditions developing at different points of a building’s lifespan, associations must assess the structural integrity of their buildings and keep up with proper maintenance protocols, even in advance of the triggering of the 40/50-year recertification process. By doing so, associations can gather accurate snapshots of their buildings’ structural health, perform proactive repairs, and organize the funding necessary to move forward with large projects.

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The collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium has been a human tragedy of unimaginable proportions, and the unspeakable grief and horror of its aftermath have been shared deeply by our law firm.

Our firm’s community association law attorneys have made helping condominium communities to contend with construction defects a particular focus of our work.  We believe reforms should be considered to require engineers to report certain serious conditions to local building departments wherever they find them.  This would take discretion out of equation and immediately involve building inspections, permits being issued and repairs being completed.  We also suggest there should be new federal/state government aid and/or low-interest federally backed loans for condominium associations that now engage in major structural repairs.

Our attorneys are also concerned by the great deal of misinformation that is currently circulating over the legal liabilities of association board members.  We note that lawsuits against a condo association are ultimately against the building’s insurer and possibly all the unit owners, as the owners can be held responsible for their association’s liabilities.  The firm’s attorneys have been reaching out to our clients to remind them of importance of prioritizing engineering findings in their turnovers to new board members and property managers, and to focus on structural issues over aesthetics and fund reserve accounts for any necessary repairs.

Stuart-Sobel-2013-200x300Our firm’s attorneys have also been sharing their insights on these and other issues with major media outlets as well as some of Florida’s lawmakers and policymakers, and we have scheduled a free live webinar on 40-year recertifications and structural maintenance for today at 1 p.m. (click here for information and online registrations).  The Sun Sentinel and Daily Business Review immediately turned to our board certified construction and condominium law experts for their input in the aftermath of the collapse.  A front-page article in the Sun Sentinel that appeared in the Friday, June 25, edition titled “How to Know if Your Condo Tower is Safe” includes insights from firm partners Stuart Sobel (pictured here) and Roberto C. Blanch.  The article reads:

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Jeffrey-Respler-high-res-200x300Shareholder Jeffrey S. Respler authored an article that is featured as the “Board of Contributors” guest commentary column in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  The article, which is titled “Association Construction Contracts Require Deft Negotiation by Legal Counsel,” focuses on the nuances of construction contracts that community associations execute with general contractors for major renovation and remodeling projects.  It reads:

. . . Construction contracts often represent some of the costliest expenses that condominium associations will ever approve, yet many associations fail to utilize the necessary legal resources and expertise to craft and execute the most effective terms and agreements. Instead, they focus merely on obtaining competitive bids, as most associations are required to do for projects exceeding 5% of their total annual budget (10% for HOAs), and often neglect to consult with highly qualified and experienced legal counsel to negotiate and finalize every aspect of their agreement with a general contractor.

Without a lawyer involved, a poorly negotiated and written construction contract can have serious consequences. Having a qualified and experienced attorney draft or review an association’s contract can help avoid risks and expensive disputes. Dealing with the aftereffects of a poorly negotiated or poorly written contract can be far more expensive than paying a lawyer to do it correctly in the first place. An experienced attorney can draft and negotiate a contract that will protect an association’s interests and be legally sound.

dbr-logo-300x57Attorneys write contracts in ways that favor their clients. Attorneys with experience in the construction industry will know the customary contract terms, and they will draft a contract in their client’s favor. If the contractor is drafting the contract, its lawyer will be doing exactly that.

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Laura-Manning-Hudson-Gort-photo-200x300Our firm’s South Florida community association attorneys are often called upon by journalists for their insights into the issues impacting condo communities and HOAs.  When The New York Times “Wealth Matters” columnist Paul Sullivan decided he needed to turn to a highly experienced community association attorney for input for a major article on association living, he called on shareholder Laura Manning-Hudson in our West Palm Beach office.

Paul’s article, which is titled “When Condo Boards and Residents Clash, Legal Bills Mount” and appeared in the Your Money section on Saturday, March 30, 2019, focuses on some of the most common issues that can cause disruptions and financial strains for community associations.  It reads:

My mother-in-law recently regaled me with a tale of intrigue, money and power in her South Florida homeowners association.

Seeking to raise about $6 million to refurbish the 20-year-old community, the association’s board had voted to assess each homeowner $7,000. But a group of vocal residents fought back, setting up a power struggle.

This conflict is nothing new to anyone who has dealt with a condominium board or homeowners association, which has well-defined obligations to the residents. As the overseer, it hires workers to cut the lawn, take out the trash, clean lobbies and common areas and maintain pools, tennis courts, golf courses and other amenities. If the elevator breaks or the roof leaks, the board gets it fixed.

But if it wants to do something cosmetic — renovate the lobby, add pickle ball courts or install a fitness center — the board needs to put its idea to a vote of the residents.

timslgo-300x46The article continues:

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A recent report by the Jacksonville, Fla., ABC network affiliate exemplifies the calamitous results that can ensue when condominium associations and HOAs are inadequately prepared to meet the long-term maintenance needs of their communities.  The station chronicled the battle that is taking place at the Fountain Gate Condominium, which is composed of a number of buildings that were originally built in the 1980s and now need their wood siding replaced.

According to the report, the association’s board of directors has approved the procurement of a bank loan for $1.5 million for the project.  It would be repaid by imposing a special assessment of approximately $20,000 per unit, to be paid monthly over seven years.

One of the directors on the association’s board, Jody Kilgore is against the special assessment proposal, which met with an immediate backlash by the unit owners.  She is quoted in the report saying that the owners, who are mainly retirees in their 70s and 80s on fixed incomes, “feel like we’re being railroaded.”

fgate-300x199She goes on to say that the unit owners are being left out of the decision-making process, explaining that Florida law requires the approval of 75 percent of the owners for material changes such as this repair project.  Instead, she notes that the board of directors alone voted to approve the changes.

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One of the key takeaways from Hurricane Irma was a reminder about the importance of keeping trees properly trimmed in order to avoid damage to power lines from downed foliage.  However, a recent report by Channel 7 News (Fox) in South Florida about a Hallandale Beach HOA’s troubles with the city over its allegedly exorbitant tree trimming serves as a cautionary tale for all Florida community associations.

According to the report, the insurance company for the Hallandale Village Homeowners Association asked association president Richard Masone to trim the trees around the property at the start of this year’s hurricane season.  Masone complied and asked the association’s regular landscape maintenance company to trim the trees.

hrack-tree-300x225The job pleased the community’s insurer, but Hallandale Beach Code Enforcement officers were not happy with the tree trimming.  City Manager Roger Carlton called the trimming unacceptable, noting that it “enormously exceeded any reasonable amount.”

The association was told by the city that the trees were “hatracked,” or over-trimmed, and they ordered the community to dig up and replace the trees, which entails hiring an arborist and pulling permits for each of the 10-15 trees that would need to be replaced.

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Nicole-Kurtz-2014-200x300The firm’s Nicole R. Kurtz authored an article that is featured as a Board of Contributor’s guest commentary column in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  The article, which is titled “Court: Association Declaration’s Reference to Alterations Encompasses Material Alterations,” focuses on a recent ruling that illustrates how Florida courts will turn to the plain and unambiguous meanings of terms in interpreting a community association’s governing documents.  For associations with declarations of condominium stating that the board of directors has the authority to approve alterations to the common elements, the decision emphasizes that such authority extends to all additions or improvements to the association’s common elements, including material alterations.  Nicole’s article reads:

. . . In 2016, the [Regency Tower condominium] association’s board of directors voted, without obtaining membership approval, to replace the existing Carrara marble flooring in the lobby with ceramic tile flooring. In response, one of the association’s unit owners challenged the board of directors’ authority to replace the lobby flooring without first obtaining approval from the association’s members.

The unit owner asserted his challenge by filing a petition for arbitration with the state’s Division of Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes. After the petition was dismissed by the arbitrator, he filed a lawsuit against the association in circuit court.

dbr-logo-300x57The owner’s position, in both the arbitration and the lawsuit, was that the association’s declaration of condominium did not include a provision detailing the procedure for approving “material alterations,” as it only referenced the board of directors’ authority to approve “alterations.” As such, the owner argued that Section 718.113(2)(a), Florida Statutes, which is triggered should there not be a procedure in an association’s declaration of condominium for the approval of material alterations, applied and precluded the board of directors from being able to unilaterally approve of the lobby flooring modification.

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