Delayed storm repairs at condos blamed on

insurance, boards and owners

Article Courtesy of Sun Sentinel

By Joe Kollin
Published July 26, 2006


With hurricane season in full swing, many condominium and townhouse associations have yet to see repairs on buildings damaged nine months ago by Hurricane Wilma.

The delay is being blamed on insurance companies, directors and even unit owners.

Consider Coconuts of Bonaventure, a townhouse development with 381 units in 45 buildings in Weston.

The association received $680,000 from its insurance carrier for roof damage that will cost $1.5 million to repair. To cover the deductible, plus pay for cleanup and other damage, the association assessed each owner $3,500.

Once that money was in hand, a new problem arose. The association's insurance carrier refused to renew, and "we couldn't sign the roofing contract without insurance," said association Vice President Joy Marks.

The board went to Citizens Property Insurance Corp. and paid the state-backed company its $297,000 premium. But Citizens said it didn't receive the check and the board was forced to get a temporary policy elsewhere. When Citizens finally agreed to cover the association, it raised the yearly total premium to more than $600,000.

That means yet another special assessment.

"Some irate homeowners are banding together trying to get us removed from the board because we caused the hurricane," Marks said. "They're blaming us for everything.''

At the 7,200-unit Kings Point retirement complex in Delray Beach, dozens of owners must rent elsewhere because "condemned" signs hang on their roofless homes.

"We're beating our heads against the wall. I'm cussing at people, I've been on TV and still we can't get anywhere," said Richard Price, president of the Tuscany section, which includes 288 units in six buildings. "And people are coming to me saying they are running out of money."

The board found a contractor who agreed to start work without waiting for insurance if the association paid the $75,000 per building deductible. The association borrowed $95,000 of the $450,000 that residents couldn't immediately come up with. Work began a couple of months ago but still isn't complete.

Price, who is renting a neighbor's unit while his awaits repair, said engineers who are contracted to make sure everything is done to code don't show up. Getting permits from the county hasn't been easy. And the contractor ignored requests to repair first the buildings where residents lived year-round.

He said politicians came to Kings Point after the hurricane, expressed concern, then promptly forgot about them.

"They don't seem to care at all," Price said.

Statewide, the Florida Department of Financial Services in December set up a mediation program with insurers that so far has settled 53 disputes. Nearly 80 percent favored the associations, according to department spokesman Jeff Takacs.

Another 61 mediations have been scheduled or are being scheduled.

"There was a spike in the numbers during the last few weeks. I guess a lot of people out there are just learning about our free program," Takacs said.

The state agencies that oversee condominium issues, the Division of Florida Land Sales, Condominium & Mobile Homes and the state condo ombudsman, Danille Carroll, refer insurance issues to Department of Financial Services.

"We don't have jurisdiction over insurance but we do recognize that it is an issue," said Carroll's spokeswoman, Meg Shannon, who added that the problem will be included in a report to Gov. Jeb Bush and legislative leaders.

The state doesn't keep track of claims made by associations against insurance companies so there is no way of knowing how many are pending.

Jan Bergemann, president of the Deland-based Cyber Citizens for Justice, which fights for the rights of unit owners, said sometimes the blame rests not with insurers but with boards and unit owners themselves.

"Insurance companies are easy to blame but don't forget, a lot of the problem is owners who can't decide what needs to be done and can't agree with their boards," he said.

"The problem is a lot of incompetent people running associations, from boards to managers," he added. "Directors may be well-meaning, but they are doing something they've never done in their lives and they don't know the basics, like simply asking a contractor if he has a license."

But there is plenty of blame to go around.

"I don't think you can pinpoint the cause of unrepaired buildings," he said. "There are a variety of reasons. In some places, they are still arguing two years later over what kind of roof they want. And we're not talking about Wilma -- we're talking about the 2004 storms. In other cases, they're going to court to fight before getting a roof. I say, do the roof and then fight over who pays. Get it repaired first."