Courtesy of the Sun Sentinel
Published December 5, 2005
LAUDERDALE -- In most condos, the major financial decision to replace
older windows with expensive hurricane glass is a personal one.
But at Americas on the Park condo on the barrier island, instead of a
choice, residents will get a bill -- an estimated $10,000 to $15,000
owners in that high-rise on the Intracoastal Waterway in Fort Lauderdale
are not alone in wrestling with the fragility of their older windows and
the issue of whether to replace them with glass that can withstand
hurricane-force winds. But this building's leaders have taken it a step
further than most, with a plan to force all owners in the 17-story
building to pay for hurricane-resistant windows and sliding-glass doors.
Even owners who already paid to install hurricane glass before the storms
will have to pay partial assessments to cover the costs for their
neighbors, according to the building's residents and leaders. And those
whose windows are protected by shutters will be forced to upgrade to new
All without a vote of the individual condo owners.
"This to me is not just about our condo, it's about every condo
everywhere," said resident Susan Gardner. "Our civil rights are
being abused, and we don't have a damn thing to do about it."
Condo board President Pablo Vitaver said the board has an obligation to
"secure the building" with new windows. He thinks the threat
posed by future hurricanes overrides any requirement for a full condo
"Nobody can have the choice of not replacing the windows. I don't
think that's even the discussion," Vitaver said. "I think it
would be crazy, a death wish."
Building manager Vinnie Catania said 24 or 25 of the building's 82 condos
were damaged from broken windows or water during hurricanes Katrina and
Windows shattered across the county during Wilma, especially in tall,
older buildings like Americas on the Park. Once the winds breached the
windows in some buildings, the real damage began. The insides of some
condos and offices were ravaged.
State condominium ombudsman Virgil Rizzo, whose job was created by the
state last year to help mediate condo disputes, recommend laws and educate
owners, called the condo's move "outrageous."
Rizzo became aware of the case after complaints from residents and a
consultation with Vitaver.
Residents pointed out that the legality of the deal is far from black and
white. Two lawyers from the same firm gave the condo board conflicting
opinions about whether a full vote is needed and whether the windows and
sliding doors are "common elements" that fall under the condo
A third lawyer hired by residents gave another opinion on the issue, and
an attorney who sits on the board had yet another interpretation.
Rizzo said the focus shouldn't be on finding legal justifications. They're
all neighbors, after all, he said.
"The most important issue before a condominium is whether the people
are happy," Rizzo said, "not what's legally correct or what the
attorneys think is legally correct."
Some residents at Americas on the Park are glad their 1977 condo will be
brought up to the more stringent window standards that went into place in
the mid-1990s. But the unusual method of forcing the upgrades is a
sticking point, as is spreading the costs.
"If I felt I needed hurricane windows to protect my home -- because I
love my home and these are gorgeous apartments, with great square footage
-- I would get them," Gardner said. "But just because someone
thinks I have to get them? My shutters are fine, and they protect the
place great, so why do I have to get these windows?" Resident A. Hal
Faulkner said he thinks the windows should be replaced as insurance
against a larger storm, even though "all of us who have shutters
suffered no damage."
But, he said, not this way.
"We don't want this issue forced on us like this."