Many obstacles to fixing condos

Work has been slowed by a multitude of issues, from late insurance payments

to boards having to learn about complicated repairs.

Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald


Published May 28, 2006

Many seriously damaged condominium complexes are still scrambling to get their buildings repaired.

''There's a lot more than what you would like to think,'' says Bill Raphan, the state's assistant condo ombudsman.

For condo associations often facing multimillion-dollar repair costs, Raphan says, it's not just a matter of finding workers. Insurance checks have been late or only partially doled out. Overwhelmed city inspectors have slowed repairs because crews can't continue until the inspectors approve each new construction phase.

Meanwhile, new problems have arisen, such as asbestos found in heavily damaged buildings. And condo boards have been forced to take more time than expected to learn about often complicated renovations and tougher building codes.

''Oh gosh, the new regulations are absolutely incredible,'' says Ted McNabney, president of the two-tower Bayview Towers in North Miami.

Take his towers' roofs.

The once-flat roofs had to be redesigned to slope toward drains because of the tougher building codes. The final layer of the roof has to be thicker -- but can't be installed until the roof's plumbing and air conditioning are fixed. Multiple bids have to be taken for each phase of the repairs.

''All this takes time. But it's getting done and . . . our buildings are going to look fabulous,'' McNabney says.

Many other condos throughout South Florida are finally getting work done after initial delays. A Miami Herald survey earlier this month found more than 5,000 Broward homes are still uninhabited -- many of those condo units.

One building in the heavily damaged Hawaiian Gardens condominium complex in Lauderdale Lakes may finally be ready for owners to move back next month, says treasurer Roland Bonnell.

''Things are getting under way and we are becoming more optimistic,'' Bonnell says.

Some of the 43 other buildings in the Hawaiian Gardens buildings are still struggling to rebuild. For example, it took months just to get a clean bill of health and the asbestos removed from the 36-unit Kahlua Gardens condo, says the building's board president, Jacque Gélinas. A crew is now working to replace the roof, he says. Other workers will rebuild walls destroyed by torrential rains that followed Hurricane Wilma.

But, Gélinas says, that work has been delayed with the city of Lauderdale Lakes being slow to issue permits -- or demanding new architectural plans that added thousands of dollars to rebuilding costs.

His building has waited months for the insurance company to dole out cash. So far, it has only gotten a partial payment for the damage.

''We don't even know how much we are getting,'' Gélinas says.

That has been typical with many condo associations receiving partial payments and asking for adjustments, assistant condo ombudsman Raphan says.

''Until you've got money, these vendors are in no hurry [to do the repairs] because they know they are not going to get paid,'' says Bonnell.

''The insurance company requires that we pay premiums on a schedule or they take away their contracts,'' Bonnell adds. "They should be required to be as responsible.''

Meanwhile, Norma Pickersgill worries about ever being able to live in her Kahlua Gardens third-floor unit, which was destroyed by the torrential rains after Wilma.

Right now, she says, she has only "concrete and four walls. There is nothing inside.''

She's been told she'll have to pay for her own windows and fork over $4,500 for a special assessment to pay for other repairs -- money she doesn't have.

''Right now, it's come to desperation,'' she says. "I don't have any insurance [to replace furniture and renovate her apartment's interior].''

She may end up having to get another mortgage to pay for the assessments. Right now, she says, her mortgage company won't refinance because of a technicality: The walls aren't up.