Since the catastrophic structural failure
and collapse of Champlain Towers South in June 2021,
multiple engineering reports, notification timelines, code
compliance reviews, Board meeting minutes, damage pattern
studies, and legal opinions have all been gathered and are
now part of the ongoing search for probable causes and
There are many more condominium buildings in Florida that could be in jeopardy of similar failure due to longer-term unaddressed physical deterioration.
Keep in mind that ALL major deterioration and resulting structural damage in condo buildings began with small maintenance issues that were not identified and addressed in time, allowing them to become significant enough to endanger resident safety.
This article will attempt to outline what could be some of the more intangible and behavioral contributions over time to why a Florida condominium building might unexpectedly crumble into its own footprint years after being built, likely due to insufficient physical condition monitoring and neglected necessary maintenance. Today's purpose is to raise awareness of non-structural factors that might lead to a similar event if allowed to continue unchecked. Please consider all the observations mentioned below as starting points for your own Association's discussion.
Apathy is generally defined as a lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern. It includes indifference and inattention to topics or issues that can affect an entire group or situation. Apathy in organizations can often be observed when leaders and members ignore warning signs and defer action for indefinite periods of time.
Apathy is different from outright negligence, criminal behavior, or incompetence. It is a subtle, subliminal attitude that progresses quietly over time and always produces bad results.
This is not just about beachfront high-rises. Condominium buildings of any design, size, location, and age can become victims of administrative apathy and runaway deterioration. The same apathy that leads to longer-term physical building decay is simultaneously eating away at an Association's financial well-being, individual property values, and overall quality of life in the condominium community.
Let's look at a few examples of how individuals and entities contribute to the collective apathy that will ultimately destroy the physical structure, organization, and finances of any Florida condo Association.
An Association's Board of Directors
Disregarding the fiduciary duty to all Association members they accepted when becoming elected Directors. Thinking they didn't really need the 2-hour new Board member training class offered by many Florida attorneys' offices.
Underfunding financial reserves with the
intent to keep budgeted assessments artificially lower, so
the Board can remain socially popular in the building and
community. Not accepting the fact that physical and
financial deterioration are directly linked and get
significantly worse the longer they are allowed to continue.
Suggesting that owners vote to waive an annual audit of Association financial statements.
Letting a manager or management company assume more authority than proper or allowed, in an attempt to reduce Director workload and/or responsibility.
Accepting and continuing the status quo of questionable administration by previous Boards.
Thinking the Board doesn't need to communicate regularly and openly with owners; that the Board can function and make all decisions on its own.
Individual Unit Owners
Thinking they didn't need to have the Governing Documents explained to them by a Florida-licensed attorney when they first bought into the building and Association.
Not at least reading the Governance Form, an informational brochure published by the Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares, and Mobile Homes that outlines how Florida condo Associations function.
Allowing the Board to make decisions and run the Association however they want, without even basic accountability to the owners.
Voting year after year to waive or reduce reserve contributions in order to keep scheduled assessments (dues, fees) lower.
Thinking that because some are "only" seasonal residents, they don't have much reason to participate in Association matters.
Never attending an occasional Board meeting (and/or the annual owners meeting) to stay informed and involved with Association business. (Yes, Association operation and administration is a business.)
Signing over their proxy vote to a Board member because the owner didn't feel like learning enough about the topic coming up for a vote.
Not questioning items they don't understand in meeting minutes, election results, financial statements, and other Association communication.
It has been suggested that many Florida condominium Boards and the owners seem to maintain a co-dependent relationship with each other. In this situation, owners may not want to be bothered with Association governance and maintenance details, while the Board wants to interpret their duties, responsibilities, and authority as they alone see fit. Both parties enable the other's desired behavior.
Managers and Management Companies
Ignoring the many warning signs of an Association and its Board heading "off the rails".
Not properly following Florida Statutes Chapter 718, the Association's own Governing Documents, and Board instructions - in that order.
Not speaking up when Boards compromise or ignore their fiduciary duty and maintenance responsibilities, for fear of losing the management contract (being fired).
Trying to convince the Board that a Deferred Maintenance Schedule prepared by the property manager can take the place of a real Reserve Study prepared by a third-party professional.
Allowing maintenance and administrative concerns to go unaddressed and unresolved for too long.
The State of Florida
Writing the section of the Condominium Act (Florida Statutes Chapter 718) that allows Associations to waive or reduce reserve contributions from their annual budgets. Very few Associations adequately understand deferred maintenance and reserve funding, so allowing them to vote and waive reserve contributions every year is extremely dangerous.
Allowing newly-elected or appointed Board members to merely sign a statement saying they read the Association's Governing Documents on their own, instead of attending a class presented by real estate attorneys who interpret and explain those documents.
Allowing Associations to vote and waive professional audits of their end-of-year financial statements.
Just because something is allowed, that doesn't mean it is automatically in the best interest of the Association. Fortunately for all condo owners, there are now bills in the Florida State House and Senate attempting to close the above loopholes. If passed, the laws they become will prohibit the full waiving of reserves from the annual budget, and require mandatory training class attendance by new Board members.
The only way to fix Association dysfunction in Florida is through owner education and participation. Dedicated Board members and involved owners are the keys.