Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on November 3, 2021
The tragic collapse of the 13-story Champlain Towers South condominium last summer in Surfside, Florida, sent shivers all the way to New York City. The shivers intensified when the news broke that the Champlain Towers condo board had been aware of “major structural damage” since 2018 – but was stymied from making $9 million in necessary repairs due to unit-owners’ unwillingness to pay assessments that ranged from $80,000 to $330,000 per unit.
In an effort to allay the anxieties of co-op, condo and homeowners association boards and residents, the Community Associations Institute (CAI), an international research, education and lobbying organization, has issued a 56-page report called Condominium Safety: Reserve Studies and Funding, Maintenance and Structural Integrity. To create the report, CAI convened three task forces made up of nearly 400 reserve fund specialists, attorneys, insurance experts, property managers, engineers, architects and homeowners. They spent three months conducting research surveys and interviews into three areas: building maintenance and structural integrity; reserve studies and reserve funding; and insurance.
A main recommendation of the report is for state legislatures to mandate reserves studies and prescribed levels of reserve funding. The report notes that condo reserve studies are required in just nine states, New York not among them. Reserve funding is required in just 11 states, again not including New York. (The CAI reported last year that 80% of resident-owned buildings faced unplanned repairs in the preceding three years – hence the need for healthy reserve funds.)
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In the section devoted to building maintenance and structural integrity, the report advocates stricter rules on building inspections, including a first inspection of a newly constructed building no more than five years after occupancy; an inspection of buildings more than 10 years old within two years of passage of the law; followup inspections every 10 years for the first 20 years of a building’s life, then every five years after that. Inspections should be based on the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) published protocol for building inspections.
Dawn Bauman, senior vice president of government and public affairs at CAI, says the report began to come together last summer. “Following the tragedy in Florida,” she says, “we knew we had to do something to answer questions. What is the board’s role and responsibility on building maintenance? What is the residents’ responsibility? We stepped away from ‘How did this happen?’ Instead, we convened experts from around the world to look at laws and practices that may need to change.”
The CAI’s lobbying arm, including a 12-person team in New York State, is getting ready to push state legislators to tighten rules, Bauman says, adding that change is already in the air.
“I think boards and residents are more aware of what needs to be done to make sure their buildings are safe – and that the cost of living is not just about mortgage and monthly maintenance payments,” she says. “I think we’ll see increased efforts in inspecting residential buildings more regularly, increased attention to building maintenance and more communities saving for a rainy day.”
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