Five years have passed since Hurricane
Wilma sheared away portions of Buckley Towers and cracked the exterior
walls, letting water invade so that now, the building is decaying as
quickly from the inside out as from the outside in.
But aside from a new roof, paid for with
a $1.5 million Small Business Administration loan, Buckley Towers hasn't
been able to make many repairs to its tattered buildings, although it
has won a court battle with its insurer, QBE, and is gearing up for
"You think if you have coverage,
you're going to get some help,'' said Peggy Stroker, the condominium
association president and a Buckley Towers resident since 1992. The
association was paying about $48,000 a month in premiums to QBE before
Once graceful and progressive, the two
17-story towers built in 1969 overlook the water along Miami Gardens
Drive. Stroker said Buckley Towers was one of the first high-rise
condominiums in the country, building off the idea of co-ops up north.
Now, red spray-painted lines mark cracks
along the exterior walls where engineers are observing whether the gaps
enlarge as time passes. The buildings appear old-fashioned and run down.
Some owners have abandoned their condos because of the depressing mix of
being upside down on their mortgages and living in the unsightly,
Owners tell Stroker they are afraid of
what they are breathing.
The two condo towers have been scheduled
for demolition by the Miami-Dade County Unsafe Structures Board,
although the court judgment and basic repairs are sparing the buildings
and their 1,200 residents from that fate, for now.
Buckley Towers attorney Daniel Rosenbaum
said the condo and the insurer wrangled over when and what QBE had to
pay. The condo couldn't get the money it won for replacement costs
because its contract was written in a way that required Buckley to make
the repairs, then be repaid. The condo couldn't afford to do that.
That left it with a claim for the actual
cash value of the damages. Including attorneys fees of about $1.6
million, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed in September that
Buckley Towers should be paid about $13 million. This judgment has
stuck, although the association wants another $4 million in interest the
settlement has accumulated since Buckley's claim was first denied in
The association has also filed a suit for
more than $500 million alleging bad faith and deception in handling the
property's hurricane insurance claims.
Winning that award will be key, Stroker
said, because of the cost of repairs. New hurricane windows alone for
both buildings would cost$7 million to $10 million, she said.
Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty
noted that QBE remains one of the few private insurers providing
coverage for condo towers, echoing industry concerns about Florida being
unfriendly to insurers. Sixty percent of that business belongs to
state-run Citizens Property Insurance, McCarty said.
QBE is financially strong, he said,
although the company has twice been investigated by his office. A 2007
review cited problems with QBE's adjusted claims, including delays in
responding to policyholders and in paying claims. The review resulted in
a $150,000 fine against QBE.
"We would certainly encourage
consumers, if they continue to have problems with QBE, let us know,'' he
said. "We will work with the insurance company to make sure that
they pay every valid claim.''
Rosenbaum said even in the case of a
valid claim like that of Buckley Towers, the insurance company had the
upper hand. The condo association had to come up with money for repairs
before their claims were paid. In cases of major damage, that can be an
And not all associations have the ability
"The market is rigged toward
benefiting the insurance company,'' he said. ``There's a lot of Buckleys
out there who don't have the chance to file a lawsuit.''
An attorney for QBE said the insurer had
Stroker is trying to forget about QBE and
Hurricane Wilma. She blocks out those images with ones of how Buckley
Towers will be beautiful once again.
"If we can do this, we can show the
insurance company that even though you put us in this hell, we can do
this,'' she said. "We can be an example for the future.''