If you read this column regularly, you may recall that two years ago I sold my condo in Chicago. Before the sale was final, I had to ask my condo board to write a letter to the prospective buyers stating that reserves were available to pay for deferred maintenance on the building. Ultimately, the letter said the new buyers wouldn’t be on the hook, so to speak, for the repairs. Some of the repairs were minor but there was one issue that had the potential to be catastrophic.
Why weren’t these maintenance issues resolved in the seven years I lived in the building? From my perspective, my former building’s all-volunteer condo board completed only the bare minimum of tasks between meetings. The board also was practically stunted by its desire to follow “protocol”. For example, as a concerned owner who was experiencing water leaks in my unit, I called a friend in the roofing industry to inspect our building’s roof. I figured my construction industry contacts would be a bonus to the board and our building. When I reported to the board what I had learned from the roof inspection, I was admonished for not following proper protocol; it didn’t matter that the inspection was done as a favor to me and didn’t dip into our reserves at all. I never offered to help the board again. And I wasn’t the only one who avoided dealing with the condo board. When my neighbors spoke up at meetings about concerns related to the building, they were often met with uninterested, and sometimes hostile, responses. Many owners stopped attending board meetings and when meeting minutes were no longer distributed regularly, it was just easier not to request them—rather than deal with the wrath of the board secretary.
When the Champlain Towers South—a 12-story condo building in the Miami suburb of Surfside, Fla.—partially collapsed, killing 98 people, in June 2021, I couldn’t help but think of my former condo building. I wondered if Champlain Towers’ condo board operated similarly to my former building’s board. While reading this issue’s “Trend Alert”, I realized it’s likely most if not all condo boards have problems.
“ … the role of condo associations in governance, building maintenance and code compliance of large structures needs to be assessed,” says Jared Blum, Washington counsel for the EPDM Roofing Association, in the article. “While condo owners are usually well meaning, it is clear that the financial reserve requirements for maintaining a multifamily residential structure and the expertise of people tasked with running that structure needs further regulation.”
It’s possible everyone in the building industry will be impacted by what happened to Champlain Towers South. As pointed out in “Trend Alert” by Nathan M. Gillette, AIA, LEED AP O+M, CEM, director of Natura Architectural Consulting in Grand Rapids, Mich., as well as a retrofit editorial advisor, codes often evolve in a reactionary fashion.
In fact, after the Surfside collapse, the International Code Council, National Institute of Building Sciences, and Building Owners and Managers Association International held a panel discussion about existing buildings maintenance and inspections specific to Florida. ICC intends to continue these discussions nationally and globally to develop a resource that can be used with the International Property Maintenance Code and be adapted by different jurisdictions.
As we await to see whether any mandates come out of the Surfside collapse, I truly hope the board of my former building was finally motivated to fix the issues on their building.