Condos

Condo residents must take special precautions to prepare for a hurricane. A well-executed disaster plan will minimize damage and promote a speedy recovery.

A TEAM APPROACH

Coastal areas will be evacuated. If you are in an inland high-rise not under an evacuation order, you might be safer staying put. Choose a building captain and create a plan now.

Designate a disaster coordinator or committee. Pre-designate the person or committee granted the authority to act on behalf of the board and the association to implement a well-conceived and orchestrated disaster plan in the aftermath of a storm.

Develop and rehearse an evacuation. Have a buddy system. Power can fail before the storm, so elevators won’t work. Memorize exits and how many steps they are from your apartment, in case you have to find them in the dark.

ASSOCIATION TASKS

Associations must allow owners to install shutters, but may restrict the style and appearance.

Associations can order you to install shutters or laminated glass, if approved in advance by a majority of the unit owners at a meeting called for that purpose. Make sure there’s a plan.

If owners want to try to change rules, do it now. You can’t call a meeting when the storm is approaching.

Agree in advance on rules for storing cars and recreational equipment and securing common areas, including the pool and pool deck.

Protect the premises: Install storm shutters, central alarm and fire protection systems, emergency generators.

A disaster plan should include emergency medical supplies, food, water, waterproof matches, a defibrillator and emergency generator. Tools to excavate someone from a collapsed structure might be considered.

CONDO INFORMATION

The association should compile a list of contact information for unit owners, vendors and professionals (including CPAs, attorneys, management personnel) and store it off the premises. Keep cellphone numbers, e-mail addresses, emergency contacts and Social Security numbers for employees and residents.

Archive all insurance policies, records of units/unit owners, personnel records and financial records (including bank account numbers, insurance policies and authorized signatures).

Photographs of the premises: Take pictures of the inside and outside of buildings and premises including all furniture, artwork, books, computers and equipment.

An ‘as-built’ drawing will greatly facilitate the reconstruction effort. Keep building plans, and contact information for the architects, engineers, contractors and sub-contractors who designed and built the structures.

BUILDING STRUCTURE

If you’re concerned about the structural integrity of the building, have a professional engineer check it out. It’s impossible to tell whether it can withstand a hurricane without an on-site evaluation.

Cracks or rusting on balconies may be signs there are weak parts of the building.

Buildings constructed before 1997 weren’t required to include window protection. Talk to the residents’ association about protecting the openings.

Know the whereabouts of shut-off valves and structural components.

AS A STORM APPROACHES

If you’re going to ride out the storm in your unit, choose an interior room without windows or an interior hallway. Be prepared to move to a lower floor. The higher up you are, the stronger the winds.

Remove loose items from porch, patio or deck. Close and lock windows, sliding glass doors and shutters. Wedge patio doors. Put towels along door tracks and window sills.

AFTER A STORM

State law requires the evacuation of the condominium property owners in the event of a mandatory evacuation order in the location where the condominium is located.
After a storm in which condominiums are made uninhabitable, a board needs to take immediate action to secure the property and begin the recovery process.

According to Section 718.1265 of the Florida Statutes, if a state of emergency is declared in the area where a condominium is located, a board can:

–Dispense with required notices of board and membership meetings, and provide notice in any practicable manner, including publication, radio, mail, or the internet.

–Name nondirectors as assistant officers with the same authority as the executive officers who they are designated to assist.

–Contract for debris removal.

–Prohibit unit owners, family members, tenants or guests from entering the condominium property (based upon advice of emergency management, officials or licensed professionals).

–Remove and dispose of wet drywall, insulation, carpet, cabinetry, or other fixtures on or within the condominium property to mitigate property damage.

–Levy special assessments without approval of the unit owners.

–Borrow money and pledge association assets without prior unit owner approval.

— Gary Poliakoff, Special to The Palm Beach Post

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Editor’s note: The following is a Q & A with Gary Poliakoff, whose column appears weekly in the Accent section of The Palm Beach Post. Poliakoff is a founding principal of Becker & Poliakoff, P.A., in Fort Lauderdale and past chairman of the Florida Condominium Advisory Board.

Question: Between the unit owners and the association, whose insurance carrier is responsible for covering the cost of reconstruction after a hurricane?

Answer: A condominium is divided into two legal subsets, “units” and “common elements.” Unit owners are responsible for maintaining the units. However, in the case of a casualty, they are not necessarily responsible for the cost of repairs.

State law mandates that the association maintain adequate insurance coverage based upon the replacement cost of the property to be insured as determined by an independent insurance appraisal; the amount of coverage to be determined at least once every 36 months. Policies may include deductibles as determined by the board consistent with industry standards.

The association’s policy must cover all improvements that were part of the original structure, other than certain defined exceptions, which are:all unit upgrades; personal property; unit floor, wall and ceiling coverings; exectrical fixtures; appliances; water heaters; water filters; built-in cabinets and countertops; and window treatments.

The exceptions, which are the responsibility of the unit owners, include the following within the unit:

  • All upgrades
  • Floor, wall and ceiling coverings, electrical fixtures, appliances
  • Air conditioners or heating equipment”; except AC Compressors located on the common elements, the maintenance of which is handled by the association
  • Water heaters
  • Water filters
  • Built-in cabinets and countertops
  • Window treatments (curtains, drapes, blinds, hardware and similar window treatment components)

    REPAIRING STORM DAMAGE

    Q: What steps should a condo board or association take to fix storm damage?

    A: Recovery is often affected by the reality that upward of 50 percent of the unit owners do not carry mandated coverage, and associations often carry inadequate coverage.

    It is critical that in the aftermath of the storms that the unit owners and the boards not compound their problems by acting hastily, and in an imprudent manner.

    The first steps are drying in (placing tarps over openings in the roof and boards over blownout doors and windows), drying out (removing wet carpet and wall boards in order to retard the growth of mold), cleaning up and securing the property.

    Before starting the rebuilding process, follow the five phases of reconstruction:

  • Project planning
  • Construction bidding
  • Contract negotiations
  • Construction/rehabilitation
  • Project completion.

    Make sure each step of the process is guided by Florida-licensed professionals.

    SPECIAL ASSESSMENTS

    Q: Is the board obligated to file a lien against the non-paying homeowners and force them to pay a special assessment to cover losses from hurricane damage not covered by insurance?

    A: Assessments are the lifeblood of common interest ownership housing communities. Assessments provide the necessary revenues to ensure that the common elements, and/or common areas, and the association property, are maintained at a high level.

    A board of directors is obligated to actively pursue deadbeats who fail to pay their share of the common expenses, and/or necessary special assessments.

    If the board lacks the willingness to take such action, board members should be removed and replaced by individuals willing to fulfill the offices.

    INSTALLING SHUTTERS

    Q: Our board of directors plans to change our documents to require installation of shutters by all owners. Can the board of administration force owners, who purchased their units under the old provisions, to install shutters now?

    A: The Condominium Act authorizes the association, upon approval of a majority of the unit owners, to make the installation of hurricane shutters or hurricane protection that complies with or exceeds the applicable building code mandatory for everyone. While the act doesn’t specifically say it, most authorities feel that the other hurricane protection referred to is hurricane glass.

    REPLACING DRYWALL

    Q: Who is responsible for the cost of repair or replacement of drywall? While the association did remove most carpeting and drywall from the units, it charged the unit owners for doing this. Is that legal?

    A: The association’s insurance must cover the cost of repair or replacement of the drywall.

    The unit owner’s policy covers the carpet. The removal and replacement of the drywall should be covered by insurance proceeds received from the association’s carrier, and the carpet from the unit owner’s policy. This, of course, assumes there are adequate proceeds from the insurance. Any shortfall is generally the responsibility of the unit owner suffering the loss.

  • Write to Gary Poliakoff, c/o The Palm Beach Post, P.O. Box 24700, West Palm Beach, FL 33416-4700.