SURFSIDE, Fla. – Search-and-rescue teams hadn’t lost hope on Tuesday. More than 150 people remained unaccounted for after a portion of a 12-story building turned into a compact mountain of pancaked concrete in Miami-Dade County.
Gov. Ron DeSantis warned it could take years before investigators determined the cause of the Champlain Towers South tragedy early Thursday morning in Surfside.
Experts said they won’t be surprised to learn that the alleged dysfunctional dynamic of the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association board was to blame for the beachfront collapse at 8777 Collins Ave.
“In a condominium, everybody is a shareholder and everybody has an opinion,” said David Haber, a Miami-based attorney who specializes in condominium law.
All of those opinions can get in the way of getting things done especially when needed repairs are costly. Boards and unit owners have the ability to waive or vote against making payments into a reserve fund — often times until it’s too late.
“Essentially they’re kicking the can down the road for someone 20 years later to pay the piper,” said Haber, the managing partner of Haber Law in Miami’s Wynwood.
Board members are elected and often hesitant to impose unpopular fees on owners — which could affect the market value. Haber said that’s something that really shouldn’t be up to the board to decide.
“For anything that’s life safety, structural, fire, electrical mechanical, I don’t think you ought to be able to waive reserves, so I think they’re going to need to change the law on that,” Haber said.
At Champlain South, an engineer warned about major structural issues in 2018 and the president of the condo association warned residents in April the problems were worsening. Their approval of $9 million for repairs increased to $15 million.
“No one thinks it would get to the point where an entire building would collapse, but these are really important structural issues that a lot of associations tend to look over and let the next board address,” said Alessandra Stivelman, a Hollywood-based attorney who specializes in condominium law and is a partner at Eisinger Law.
Experts believe there will be lessons learned once more light is shed on the cause of the tragedy in Surfside. Haber believes engineers and local governments need more authority to hold buildings accountable on repair timetables.
“Change the law so when engineer writes that report it gets filed immediately with the building department and the clock starts ticking,” Haber said.
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