Courtesy of The Palm Beach Post
Friday, June 3, 2005
PALM BEACH — Last year, after Frances and Jeanne tore through Charolais
Villas, 31 of the 44 units sat stinking, trashed and growing mold.
For months, the condo board waited for an
adjuster from Citizens Property Insurance Corp. When desperation peaked, board
members hired a public adjuster, who for a fee works on behalf of insurance
customers rather than an insurance company. Weeks later, with the public
adjuster's help, they held a check for $1.4 million — and rejoiced.
But this happy ending had an epilogue.
"We're stuck in the Twilight Zone,"
said board Secretary Stephanie Yelton. "It's unfortunate because people
aren't getting into their homes and we're coming up on our year anniversary
(since the storms).
"We have three units that required more
demolition work and mold treatment to repair them. We had mold damage to
several fire walls that are going to have to come down. We had lots of
additional electrical work to bring us up to safety codes; those are just the
things I can think of off the top of my head."
These problems are similar to those being faced
by numerous volunteer boards across the state that were unprepared for the
aftermath of a disaster. In Charolais's case, a million-dollar construction
project is pretty sizeable for an inexperienced, elected board.
"We've had to do everything ourselves —
it's just one thing after another," Yelton said. "It's a
Yelton said she and with other board members
spend several hours every day coordinating construction projects. She said
contractors have started work and abandoned them, and they have remained
confused about the role of a public adjuster. They thought he would be there
several times, filing supplemental claims as new needs arose. Instead, they've
learned, he won't file supplemental claims until all $1.4 million has been
Yelton said the money has been allocated, and
she can already tell the condo is going to need more.
"We just finished the mold treatment and
couldn't start any reconstruction until mold treatment was done," Yelton
said, when asked why the money hadn't been spent. "Now contractors can
get in there. "
Yelton said 14 of 44 owners in the Charolais
Villas can't live in their homes.
Bill Raphan, executive director of
communication for the condominium ombudsman of Florida, said he takes daily
calls from condo dwellers complaining that repairs are lagging and the new
season is here.
"The damage that occurred created a
multiphase problem," Raphan said. "First, the association had to
contact the insurance companies, adjusters had to come in and do their things,
and then the boards realized they didn't get enough money to take care of the
Raphan said many of the condo boards try to
save money by not hiring professionals to oversee the work — like Charolais
did. But in the end, they end up spending more.
"They are trying to do the right
thing," Raphan said. "But it's a very complex issue, and it's very
difficult for boards' members to handle it. They try and do their best, but
they just can't handle it."
The condo ombudsman was a position created at
the beginning of this year to hear complaints from condo residents across
Florida. The office tries to mediate between residents and board members
"Before lawyers step in," Raphan
Since last year, public adjuster Ken Hecht has
been the condo's liaison with Citizens Insurance, which covers all common
areas in the condo building. He has suggested the association hire a
professional to oversee all the construction, but Yelton said she was already
burned by one contractor who walked off the job. Then, the board decided not
to spend any money on anything that didn't go directly toward repairs.
"We don't have the money to pay for the
repairs we have now and he was encouraging us to hire an architect — that's
not the response we needed," Yelton said. "We needed someone out
here to see the damage and put in the bids."
But Hecht can't file for any more claims until
the board has spent the money under rules adjusters must follow.
"I can't foresee that the owners will be
back in their units by the next hurricane — assuming we have one, I'm hoping
we don't," Yelton said. "There's so much of the unknown. We don't
want to budget a lot of money to something that is going to pull away. The
main thing is that we get the building secure."
Looking back, she'd do it differently.
"I would probably hire one project manager
to handle it — to do all the hiring of the contractors and subcontractors.
The general contractor we hired, that we hoped would handle all this, walked
out on us," Yelton said. "We expected people to do the job they were
hired to do, and we've been disappointed in the follow up that we've gotten.
In hindsight, it's easy to see mistakes that have been made. I still feel
we've done the best we could with what we've had to work with.