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Lessons Learned from the Champlain Tower South Collapse

In the wake of recent events in Florida and the Champlain Tower collapse, Condo corporations and HOAs are taking more than a bit of heat from local and state governments, the media, and condo owners. With the death toll hitting eighteen known lives and over one hundred still missing, the spotlight is focused on who is ultimately responsible for allowing a building full of owner tenants to fall into such a state of corrosion and disrepair.

Ultimately, this preventable tragedy has reinforced the opinion that Homeowner Associations (HOAs) should be particularly discerning when selecting board members. They should ensure that delegated roles are carried out and hire professionally vetted property management companies to oversee operations.

 

Tenant Safety

Residents should not hesitate to hold elected board members accountable if they do not follow through on their delegated responsibilities, especially when monitoring building maintenance and repairs. The HOA is responsible for enforcing condo rules and regulations. Depending on the size or complexity of the community, a management company may be hired to maintain all day-to-day operations and ensure that required building repairs are carried out by professional tradesmen in a timely manner.

The health and safety of residents needs to be a top priority for any HOA and board. It needs to be part of a HOA or independent management’s checklist to make regular and frequent rounds to see that buildings are in good repair and suitable for habitation. To avoid breaks in communication, it is essential that any incoming management team receive a detailed account from board members on the operation of their HOA and are updated frequently on any goals and tasks that need to be performed.

 

The Condo Owner’s Role

Purchasing a condo turns new residents into landlords and instant co-owners of a corporate entity responsible for all common elements. Most tenants have busy lives and don’t recognize their role of responsibility within their HOA community or choose not to be active participants, even though they signed up to be. One of the biggest drawbacks to condominium living is the added accountability requirements to the others within the complex, and some find this difficult to maintain or tolerate.

 

Roles of Professional Management Services in Building Safety

With almost four hundred thousand condominium communities with an HOA in the US, more condo owners are turning to the services of a professional management company to ensure the safe and smooth operation of their investment. A condo association management company takes care of all the responsibilities related to building management, and most provide multiple services from financial management to building maintenance.

    1. Mediation and Resolution. Belwood Properties and similar companies are practiced in resolving resident complaints and concerns. If an issue needs to go further, property management companies serve as mediators between the resident, the board, and the HOA. At times, disputes can arise due to a maintenance issue or upgrade that a resident may feel is important but is not a priority for the HOA.

      For example, a resident might find floor tiles in the lobby slippery when wet and see them as a safety hazard. The HOA may determine that it is not cost-effective to replace them. The management company can step in and offer a workable solution to satisfy both parties, such as hiring a floor mat company.

      Or, in the case of the Champlain Tower collapse, condo managers, in 2018, were made aware of concrete slab damage below the pool deck as well as crumbling columns, beams, and walls of the parking garage under the complex which stood 13 floors high. A plan was put into place to address the buildings’ structural damage but it was obviously planned to begin a bit too late. The HOA, led by the Towers’ residents, operates the building and indicated that the report outlined the issues to address but did not know there was a significant safety risk. An effective HOA would have addressed the issues in a timely manner, resolved disputes over lines of credit and financing, and coordinated a plan with the residents to fix the structural damage.

 

    1. Preventive Maintenance. Property management companies are focused on preventive maintenance, ensuring that all safety protocols are met, and building components are in top working order. As a function of their HR process, management companies ensure that employees in housekeeping and maintenance are fully trained in health and safety measures and wear the appropriate PPE required for their job.

 

    1. Professional Contractors. Usually, most management companies will have a database of tried-and-true contractors in the area with whom they share trusted relationships. Residents can be assured that repairs are executed by professional tradespeople promptly. In the case of extensive repairs and upgrades, experienced managers will draft professional and detailed proposals for presentation to the board and HOA for review and approval. Since management companies arrive from a place of experience and knowledge, they understand the repercussions of leaving repairs lingering. A HOA association management company may have been integral in this case involving the Champlain Tower South residents.

 

    1. Streamlined Application Process. The application process is consistent and straightforward, as the property management company brings extensive experience in the proper translation and execution of legally recognized documents, such as applications, lease agreements, and permits.

 

    1. Knowledge of Local and State Legislation. Management companies have sound knowledge of state legislation regarding landlords and tenants and can protect an HOA’s interests by keeping current with changing laws and regulations.

 

  1. Financial Management. While a board treasurer is responsible for overseeing financial records, a professional property management company will take on the day-to-day task of bookkeeping and working within set budgets.

 

Safety is a Top Priority

Some residents accused the Champlain Tower Souths’ condo association of not responding quickly enough to the structural flaws identified in a recent engineering report. The airwaves and internet are full of articles that discuss dissension among the condo owners, and they have a right to be concerned but may not be correct in directing blame. Building codes, along with state and municipal inspection protocols and state laws governing HOAs, help protect condo owners by instilling measures to prevent structural failures. The recent collapse in Florida is a rare occurrence. However, if there are signs that indicate a building is in trouble, residents and their management team need to stay on top of them.

The safety of tenants should be among the highest priorities when managing the day-to-day duties of a condominium. Negligence and shoddy building practices can lead to the type of tragedy seen at Champlain Tower South, which sent shockwaves within condo and HOA communities and continues to negatively affect the real estate market as purchasers and current owners rethink their living space.

Condominium community HOAs benefit from hiring a property management company that will take on the role of day-to-day management and will communicate openly and professionally with an HOA board of directors. They should be proactive and conscientious regarding preventative maintenance so that tragedies like the Champlain building never happen.

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