Some condo residents may face

special assessments of up to $5,000


Article Courtesy of THE SUN SENTINEL

By Joe Kollin
Published on Friday, November 11, 2005

Electric and insurance bills aren't the only ones certain to go up as the result of Hurricane Wilma.

Your condominium or homeowner association will also have uninsured expenses and bill you for them. Someone has to pay for restoring the landscaping and replacing roofs.

The size of the bill that associations eventually hand owners may come as a shock.

"Some directors I talked to today are thinking about special assessments of $1,000 to $5,000 per unit," said Gary Poliakoff, the Fort Lauderdale-based attorney whose firm represents more than 3,500 condo and homeowner associations throughout the state.

"You're talking about tens of millions of uninsured losses caused by Hurricane Wilma, especially uninsured landscaping," he added. "If you're going to restore the community to the quality that existed before the storm, the money has to come from somewhere."

The shock may be especially strong in homeowner association communities, gated or not, where individuals own houses and think their responsibility extends only as far as their front lawn. They may not realize they must maintain all common areas, including the landscaping, which generally isn't covered by any insurance.

The major question owners are asking their condo and homeowner associations is who pays for damage to their units.

"The question can only be answered by looking at the individual association documents," Poliakoff said.

"You have to answer on a case-by-case basis, depending how the documents read," agreed Michael Bender, whose law firm represents 400 associations. Bender is president of the Southeast Florida chapter of the Community Associations Institute, an organization representing lawyers, accountants, management companies and others in the community association industry.

Most associations will impose special assessments to cover the uninsured expenses, while some have reserve funds to help pay for what isn't covered.

"This will be a rude awakening for many owners," said Jan Bergemann, president of Cyber Citizens for Justice, a Deland-based organization of Florida owners. "You will see lots of special assessments -- and huge ones."

"It's naive to think that it's not going to hurt, especially in associations that neglected to buy insurance," said Lori Schiller of Weston, a longtime condo association director who works as a senior account executive for an insurance company.

Owners and associations do have some options.

Schiller said individuals should check their homeowner policies, because some provide for reimbursement, usually up to $1,000, for what owners must pay toward their association's deductible.

Instead of imposing special assessments, Poliakoff said associations should consider:

Condo reserves. Condo boards, if they establish reserve funds, must designate them for specific purposes, such as roof replacement, parking lot resurfacing or painting the building exterior. If the reserve is for the parking lot, it legally can't be used to replace the roof that was blown off by Wilma. But Poliakoff said the state would consider a hurricane an emergency and allow the money to be used.

Line of credit. Associations can borrow the money and pay it off rather than impose a huge, sudden special assessment on owners to pay for uninsured expenses, he said

Small business loan. Since the operation of an association is a business, associations may qualify for low-interest small business loans, he said.

FEMA may help pay the cost of removing debris. Some cities also remove debris in private communities.