Courtesy of TCPALM.com
July 4, 2005
Marjory Perlmutter will have to
come up with an additional $15,000 to continue living at her beachside
"I am very angry, very frustrated, but what can I
do?" said Perlmutter, who has lived at the Sandpebble condominiums on
Hutchinson Island in Stuart for the past 13-years. "I thought these fees
would be covered by my insurance, but I had to learn the hard way."
Perlmutter is one of dozens of residents at the Sandpebble
condominiums who have the financial burden of paying special assessment fees to
their condominium association because of exterior damage caused by the 2004
hurricanes. Residents are required to pay the special fees in addition to their
usual monthly or quarterly condominium dues because these fees are not covered
by their own insurance policies.
Perlmutter and her neighbors aren't the only Treasure
Coast residents having to shell out extra cash for unexpected special assessment
fees at their condominiums.
Vero Beach resident Charles Curran must pay a special
assessment fee of $3,720 by July 15 to his community association at the Vista
Royale condominiums. Curran, 91, is on a fixed income and doesn't understand why
he has to pay the fee when his unit only suffered minimal damage after
hurricanes Jeanne and Frances.
"If I don't pay by July 15, they are going to charge
me an additional 6 percent in interest," said Curran, who has lived in his
2-bedroom unit since 1979. "You bet your life I am angry, and I am confused
Frank Bilotta, president of the condominium association at
Vista Royale, said he sympathizes with Curran — but added that the fees were
needed to repair the exterior areas at the 1513 unit complex.
"The fees are for asbestos abatement," Bilotta
said. "We have a lot of elderly people here on a fixed income so I know
it's been difficult for them. They understand why we have a special assessment
but accepting it is a completely different thing."
Karen Merrill, vice-president of Elliott Merrill Community
Management, which manages the Vista Royale association and 80 other condominium
associations on the Treasure Coast, said special assessments are levied because
of two reasons.
"Landscape and debris removal is not covered by the
master policy for the association," Merrill said. "Associations also
have to meet a deductible to collect on their policies and that isn't covered by
Joseph Sussillo, president of the Sandpebble condominiums
association, said depending on the policy and insurance company, some residents
were able to recoup the special assessment fees from their insurers. Others
weren't so lucky.
"Some of us got all the money we requested and some
literally got six cents or 10 cents," Sussillo said. "These policies
are so tricky. Some won't cover water damage, some won't cover wind damage. You
have to really understand your policy, but sometimes it's so confusing."
Perlmutter finds herself among the unlucky ones.
"The fee varies, but for me it's $1,255 a quarter for
the next three years," said Perlmutter, a retiree. "It basically
covers any exterior damage that wasn't covered by the association's insurance,
it's causing a lot of hardships for people here."
Mike Bottcher, president of the Gold Coast Chapter of the
Community Associations Institute, a trade organization for condominium
associations that stretches from Boca Raton to Indian River County, said
condominium residents must scrutinize the fine print of the master policy
purchased by the board of directors of the condominium associations.
"When you live in a condominium, you live on common
property and when that's damaged, everyone that lives there is responsible
during a catastrophe," Bottcher said. "When there is a deductible, the
people who live on that property have to pay it, unless the association has a
very large reserve."
Floyd Nichols, vice president of the Insurance Office of
America in Jupiter, a nationwide multi-line insurance broker agreed with that
"These types of assessments kick in when the peril is
not covered by the master policy," Nichols said. "I really don't have
an answer on how we can fix this. There really isn't any answer because the laws
are so unclear. Unless the legislators get involved, I don't know how it will
Frank Rathbun, a spokesman for the Washington D.C.-based
Community Associations Institute, said residents on the Treasure Coast should
talk to insurance brokers about their master and individual policies if they do
not fully understand their coverage.
"It's a really tough spot to be in but if you don't
get it, don't be afraid to ask your broker questions," Rathbun said.
"This is especially important for those on a fixed income. Spending a
little more time on it now, could save you a lot of time and money later."