South Florida condos suffered serious damage

that will take a lot of time and money to repair

Article Courtesy of the Miami Herald

Posted November 13, 2005

Hunkered down from Wilma on the fifth floor of the historic Art Deco Mantell condominium, J.P. Faber and his son Nick, 14, heard a bang and then a swoosh in their Miami Beach studio.

''Some object blew right in a balcony door panel,'' Faber says, ''and scattered glass all over.''

In Pompano Beach, Maria Tisa-Knapp had just walked out of her unit at the Silver Thatch when she heard a loud explosion ''like a bomb.'' Wilma had shattered all but two of her unit's windows and patio doors.

Around South Florida, many condominiums suffered a surprising amount of damage from an underestimated hurricane: Roofs were ripped off, buildings flooded, windows broken, walls toppled, doors torn off, air conditioning units flung away and boat docks upended.

''There was serious damage inflicted by this storm that will take a long time and a lot of money to repair,'' says Helio De La Torre, an attorney whose Miami-based firm represents more than 500 community associations.

''The insurance will not pay for this fully and owners will have to dig into their pockets.''

Many complexes will have to levy special assessments, since most have hefty insurance deductibles, usually hundreds of thousands of dollars, says accountant Monte Kane, whose Miami-based firm serves more than 100 community associations.

A condo association's insurance usually pays for the exterior damage, including broken windows and patio doors. Individual owners or their insurance companies are responsible for damage inside the unit. At some 

   At the Silver Thatch in Pompano Beach, 80 percent of windows were blown out.

condominiums, usually older ones, individual owners are responsible for their units' windows.

Wilma turned out to be a wake-up call for condo owners to become as vigilant as homeowners were after Andrew destroyed wide swathes of South Dade in 1992.

During last month's storm, many windows and patio doors weren't protected with shutters. People didn't bother to haul in their balcony planters and furniture -- which ended up smashing others' windows and patio doors.

''There was a lackadaisical attitude on some people's part,'' says Tom Roses, president of the property management division of Continental Management Co., which manages more than 600 community associations.


Indeed, debris was blamed for a lot of Wilma's damage. From her King Cole Condominium unit in Normandy Isles, Lisa Frankel was amazed to see a roof blow off a nearby building. Tar and roofing materials ended up swirling in the sky. She says her complex lost about 90 windows, and she attributes at least some of that damage to the flying debris.

Though engineers have yet to pinpoint the reasons for many broken windows, poor installation or inadequate maintenance likely contributed to some failures.

For the most part, Wilma preyed on condos built before the tougher hurricane codes went into effect. But some new Miami-Dade high-rises, constructed under the post-Andrew rules, also took heavy hits. At least one insurance company has hired an engineering firm to figure out why.

At one new building in Miami-Dade, the family watched in horror as Wilma blew out the sliding glass windows of their 18th-floor luxury condo and sucked out the couches, said Continental's Roses. Wilma then tossed the furniture into an eighth-floor apartment.

He says he has found one clue to why some windows failed: They may have been improperly installed in a few pricey new buildings his company manages in Miami-Dade. He refused to identify the buildings.

Workers, for example, didn't drill enough screws in the frames that anchor the windows to walls, Roses says. Some window frames had only one screw drilled every three feet, when the gap was supposed to be 12 to 18 inches.

''It was not the quality of glass but the workmanship,'' he says. He says the new high-rise condos his company manages in Fort Lauderdale lost only one window.

The damage to new buildings also shows that city inspectors must become more vigilant in overseeing finished work, says John Pistorino, who wrote Miami-Dade's first workmanship construction codes after Andrew and has been hired by an insurance company to look at new high-rise destruction.

''I guess I am frustrated and mad, not only for the turmoil of units owner who are going through this -- but we know they [buildings] shouldn't have failed,'' Pistorino says.

Damage was much more widespread in older condo buildings, in some places so severe that hundreds of residents were ordered out of their homes.

The city of Lauderdale Lakes declared unsafe about 500 units in Hawaiian Gardens, a sprawling coral-colored condominium complex built around 1970. Commissioner David Shomers estimates about 4,000 to 5,000 people live there.

Now, Jocelyn Desbiens only has to look up in her third-floor condo to view the damage: She can see the building's wooden rafters. Pink and white insulation covers her living room couch. Mold is growing in her bedroom.

''I have nothing left,'' says Desbiens, who is staying in West Palm Beach. ''I lost everything I had.''

In Pompano Beach, the Silver Thatch condominium board and management company quickly sopped up water, boarded up windows and threw tarps over damaged roofs to save their 362 residents from being forced to leave.


The result is not pretty, with a virtual wall of plywood covering the 24-year-old complex's two buildings.

''We lost about 80 percent of the windows,'' says property manager Tisa-Knapp, whose own unit at the complex was destroyed.

But at least residents can stay at home while crews renovate the complex. That may take as long as 18 months, Tisa-Knapp estimates.

At the 5-year-old Pinnacle in Sunny Isles Beach, condo board president Jad Shor is also warning about months of waiting. The association has to order specially made windows to replace about 17 that were shattered when a roof from a nearby older building came off and hurled debris into the luxury high-rise.

''We were lucky,'' Shor says. ''I tell you the [Pinnacle's] construction was good. The damage was minimal. This is a structurally sound building.''

In Aventura, the Coronado Condominium Association is waiting for insurance adjustors to let them know how much they will pay for two ruined roofs at the 30-year-old complex. Indeed, the damaged roof over the rec building may not even be covered: Its deductible is $295,000, says property manager Nury Vazquez.

So owners of the Coronado's 760 units are looking at a steep special assessment. ''We had no reserves,'' she says.

At the Mantell in Miami Beach, where most of the damage was to the lobby's windows and door, condo board president Ray Breslin is frustrated at the wait for Citizens Property Insurance to send an adjustor so he can start repairs.

''Our lobby windows are custom tempered glass, and we can do nothing until the insurance company contacts us,'' he says.

In the next-door 1940s-era Helen Mar condominium, the association had another headache: doing repair work for several out-of-town owners and billing them. The Helen Mar is one condominium that requires owners to pay for their own broken windows. But the association is ending up overseeing many repairs.

''We're trying to get a company out to make repairs,'' says the building's maintenance man, Lenny Williams.

The problem: None of the businesses he called had glass to replace 14 to 15 windows.

''They ran out,'' he says.