The fatal collapse of the Miami building provides inspiration for apartment politics in Florida

The apartments and hotels along Collins Avenue provide residents with sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean, now broken by a haunting pile of rubble.

Southern Florida officials collapsed this week in the Miami suburb of Surfside, a 12-story apartment building in South Champlain Towers South. Two weeks later, there were 136 units. cancelled Looking for survivors.

Emergency rescuers turned their attention to finding the bodies of the collapsed victims. As of Friday night, the incident had killed at least 79 people, and another 61 people “may be missing.”

The search for the cause of the collapse has also begun, although investigators say it is too early to know how long it will take – let alone what the final answer is.

However, it is clear that as part of the 40-year “recertification”, Champlain Tann will need to perform repairs worth millions of dollars, a procedure established by Miami-Dade County and Broward County to ensure construction Things are still safe decades later from Florida’s sun, sea, and salt abuse.

Organizing these repairs is the responsibility of the board of directors of the Apartment Association, which is a legal entity composed of volunteer owners elected by other residents and is responsible for maintaining the structure and public areas of buildings composed of individual-owned apartments.

Due to cost disputes, repairs were postponed. Before the board of directors voted in April to pass a “special assessment” to fund them, this had soared from US$9 million to US$15 million. This is a fee levied on a specific project. Said that this is a terrible prospect.

Have similarities Serious bill When landlords upgrade their houses, some apartment owners are forced to pay wrapping On their building when the deadly Grenfell fire broke out in London four years ago.

A woman adds flowers to the memorial with photos of people who went missing in the collapse of Champlain Tan. © Giorgia Viera/AFP via Getty Images

In the United States, less than one-third of apartment associations have sufficient funds for major repairs such as structural engineering or roof replacement. Experts say that delays and disagreements are common not only in Florida but throughout the United States.

“Every apartment is like a small society,” said Carolina Sznajderman Sheir, a partner at Eisinger Law who specializes in apartment law.

Sheir said that although the 40-year recertification sounds like a “seeking truth from facts” process, it often leads to infighting among residents. “That’s why it is difficult: we are talking about huge projects, we are talking about multi-million dollar restoration projects.”

“The board that levies the evaluation fee is not a popular board,” she added. “People don’t want to pay huge evaluation fees… Politics is politics, whether it’s national or on a small board of directors.”

Annotated photo explaining the collapse of the Champlain Tower in Miami

Marta Reeves knows exactly how this process has become intense. Her family has lived in the Brickell Empire Hotel for more than 30 years, a 161-unit building located about 12 miles southwest of Champlain Tower. It was built in 1983 along Biscayne Bay, and its unique “red wall” can be seen in the credits of the 1980s TV show “Miami Storm”.

The situation in the Empire State Building highlights how the debate about how to pay for repairs can lead to hostility: owners with different incomes and different ideas about how much maintenance is needed, sometimes via Facebook or email.

Reeves won a seat on the Imperial Apartments Board of Directors in 2010 and was a member of the list of coordinating officers elected in March 2018. Five new board members passed a special assessment of $1 million to repair roofs, cooling towers and elevators because the building lacked sufficient reserves to pay for the work.

The board of directors then decided to replace the 944 windows along the famous red wall; an engineer’s report more than ten years ago stated that their service life was about to end. The 40-year certification for the building will expire in 2023, requiring a waterproof “envelope”, and the new building code stipulates that the glass should be able to withstand the impact of the hurricane that hit the Florida coastline.

Therefore, the board of directors passed an assessment of US$9 million, which would put the cost per unit of the homeowner between US$45,000 and US$62,000. Despite obtaining financing to help the homeowner cover the costs, Reeves and her four board members were defeated in the re-election race in February 2020.

The current and former boards of Empire Apartments disagree over the maintenance of the 944 windows on the “red wall”, which can be seen in the opening remarks of the TV show “Miami Storm” in the 1980s © Claire Bushey

“It’s not a popular job when the piper will come after years of not solving the problem in time,” Reeves said. “That’s why we vote.”

Reeves watched with frustration as the new board tried to solve maintenance problems with what she believed was not as sharp as the previous organization. “I’m not saying they didn’t fix it,” she said. “They put a band-aid on it.”

Rissig Licha, the current board member of the Empire, rejected these suggestions. In an emailed statement, she stated that the board “will comply with 40-year recertification as its main goal since taking office.”

The board of directors also stated that it has “actively communicated with the owners” in the process and “will not hesitate to find the best structural and construction experts and experts”.

Florida has 1.5 million apartments, more than any other state. State law requires the association to have a timetable to pay for the overhaul, but there is a loophole: homeowners can vote to forgo paying the reserve fund. Only six states require apartments to maintain “sufficient” reserves without giving homeowners the option to give up the requirements.

Attorney Schell pointed out that many apartment owners in Florida are retirees and therefore do not care much about the long-term maintenance of their property. She added that they prefer to keep their monthly membership dues as low as possible.

“People just don’t want to pay a higher evaluation,” she said. “They would rather put money in their own pockets than in other people’s pockets.”

Failure to set aside funds for capital improvements is a problem throughout the United States, but it is particularly serious in Florida, where the climate has caused more serious damage to buildings. Sinisa Kolar, vice president of the Falcon Group, an engineering and construction consulting firm, said that builders use concrete because the weight of the material can withstand hurricanes, but over time, ultraviolet light and salty air will eventually corrode the material.

The rest of the apartment was demolished on July 4 © Giorgio Viera/AFP via Getty Images

Some local politicians suggested that Florida should shorten the recertification process from 40 years to 20 years, which Corral said would “make everyone aware of the work they absolutely need.”

But Robert Nordlund, the chief executive of Association Reserves, doubted whether the legislation could force apartment owners to budget for future repairs.

He said that more importantly, whether insurance companies and mortgage lenders consider the financial status of the apartment association when setting premiums or issuing loans. Lenders usually only require 10% of the reserve fund of the apartment association before they are willing to provide mortgage loans to buyers.

“The risk factor is there, and it’s very obvious,” he said. “I don’t know why they missed these clues… I wonder if this is the time when they start to learn and improve their underwriting standards.”

The Surfside disaster has enveloped the residents of the empire, just like it is in apartment buildings throughout Miami.

An emergency support pillar was placed in the parking lot of the building last week, but Licha said that the structural engineer hired by the apartment association “has not found repairs or abnormal conditions, consistent with similar buildings in the same age group.” Reeves agreed with the current board of directors that the apartment building is well structured.

Nonetheless, at least one resident seemed uneasy this week. He parked the car in the garage and told Reeves that he had written to the board of directors to express his concerns. She told him to continue writing: tragedy sometimes brings change.

“This is a very high cost,” he replied.

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