wplg logo
SHOW MORE 

Condominium law experts say tragedy will prompt more accountability

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.

Complete coverage

Crews work in the rubble Champlain Towers South condo, Tuesday, June 29, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. Many people were still unaccounted for after Thursday's fatal collapse. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Coverage on Tuesday

A rescue worker pauses to look up at what remains of the Champlain Towers South residential building, Monday, June 28, 2021 in Surfside, Fla. Many people were still unaccounted for after Thursday's fatal collapse. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Coverage on Monday

Crews work in the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo, Sunday, June 27, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. Many people were still unaccounted for after Thursday's fatal collapse. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Coverage on Sunday

Workers search in the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo, Saturday, June 26, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. One hundred fifty-nine people were still unaccounted for two days after Thursday's collapse, which killed at least four. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Coverage on Saturday

Search and rescue workers go through rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo in Surfside, Fla., section of Miami, Friday, June 25, 2021. The apartment building partially collapsed on Thursday. The teams continue to work at the site hoping to detect any sounds coming from survivors. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Coverage on Friday

This photo taken from video provided by ReliableNewsMedia firefighters rescue a survivor from the rubble of the Champlain Towers South Condo after the multistory building partially collapsed in Surfside, Fla., early Thursday, June 24, 2021. (ReliableNewsMedia via AP).

Coverage on Thursday


About the Authors:

Amy Viteri is an Emmy Award-winning journalist who joined Local 10 News in September 2015. She's currently an investigative reporter and enjoys uncovering issues facing South Florida communities. A native of the Washington, D.C., area, she's happy to be back in South Florida, where she earned a masters degree at the University of Miami.

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.