Condo Collapse – A Five Part Series
Part 1 – The Who
In this Five Part Series on the Collapse of the Florida Condominiums, I wanted to take the time to focus on not just the Who, What, Why, When and How that go into a disaster such as the collapse of the Surfside Condominium but the underlying elements of these elements. Please also check out this article from CCI Toronto where a variety of professionals provide some insight. https://ccitoronto.org/news/view/condo-collapse-what-about-us CCI Golden Horseshoe’s CondoTalk Part II on the Duty to Repair and Maintain is going to explore the issue more with a variety of professionals and CCI Huronia is hosting a Lunch and Learn Webinar On Lessons Learned from Recent and Tragic Condo Collapse in Florida https://elia.org/events/upcoming-events Please note that replays of both chapter events are always available and are still FREE!
We have also collated a list of resources to help you delve deeper into the information surrounding both the disaster in Surfside Florida and the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, which we will be sharing as a resource over the next few weeks.
As a human being and condominium board member, the story of the Surfside Condominium collapse story, is horrific. It makes me acutely aware of the seriousness of the issues in the hands of the board of directors and our duty as condominium board directors. The Condominium Act, 1998 section 37 sets the standard to which directors will be held. BUT WHAT DOES IT REALLY MEAN to do due diligence and exercise the care, diligence and skill that a reasonably prudent person would exercise in similar circumstances?
I think it means that the responsibility of managing the assets of a condominium corporation starts and ends with the Board of Directors. It means that someone must take the lead, do the work of researching and questioning and then make all the decisions needed to ensure the safety of the condominium corporation OR force the hand of unit owners to do so where participation of unit owners is required.
While I believe that most directors are well-intentioned, I appreciate many are lay people and thus are not, for example, professional engineers who can assess the integrity of their building. But this is exactly why professional engineers need to be engaged and their advice implemented! I do not do my own dental work, I rely on a professional for my dental health. The Condominium Act, 1998 gives the Board great power but that means responsibility. The Act clearly encourages/directs Board members to employ professionals such as lawyers, engineers and property managers. All of whom participate in the operation of a condominium corporation in accordance with applicable laws and have specialized knowledge.
The key “Whos” in the Surfside condominium disaster were the Board, the Unit Owners, the condominiums engineers and all the other people who turned a blind eye or looked the other way which ranges, it appears, from the Town of Surfside which inspected the building regularly to I suspect property management. Why did no one say anything?
The key points of debate at the Board table and unit owners, according to the Washington Post, were over the cost and scope of the work, which were debated with each turnover of the volunteer board, dragged out preparation for rectification over three years, as per the minutes of the condominium board meetings. No one wanted to know the truth because they could not handle the truth about their 40 year old building.
Yet it seems the facts were available. This building from its inception had membrane and water penetration issues. The structural columns appear to have been inadequate for the load being placed on them. The roof appears to have been water logged. Balconies were failing throughout the structure and were noted in reports. Inspection of the building in the aftermath shows that there were composition issues with the actual structural columns with incorrect ratios of steel and concrete. The history of the condominium is fraught with a multitude of warning signs which independently may not have seemed threatening but when you added it all up together, it seemed that the disaster was foreseeable.
Why do Board’s drag their feet when they know things are afoot? Or do they know? With a lack of continuity on the Board, Board members who are new cannot believe the issue is as bad as it seems.
As many of us can attest: sticker shock, in this case $9-15 USD Million dollars can make Unit Owners rebel and cause many to want to debate the truth of the matter.
“We work for months to go in one direction and at the very last minute objections are raised that should have been discussed and resolved right in the beginning,” …“This pattern has repeated itself over and over, ego battles, undermining the roles of fellow board members, circulation of gossip and mistruths. I am not presenting a very pretty picture of the functioning of our board and many before us, but it describes a board that works very hard but cannot for the reasons above accomplish the goals we set out to accomplish.” Resignation letter of Anette Goldstein, President of the collapse Champlain Towers in Surfside, Florida
Board members are often elected unit owners. Thus, everyone is in the same boat and have the same interest: a safe place to reside. Yet, the debates rage between board members who know better than each other and unit owners. What is at the heart of the conflict? In my opinion, it is often a variance in knowledge and it is a difference in value systems, who know people who are smarter than the board they elected and who can do the work cheaper? These are the debates we hear in Ontario all the time and they were the same in Surfside.
So who does the responsibility to rectify the condominium lie with? In my opinion, the Act makes it clear that the buck starts and stops with the Board of Directors in Ontario and Surfside, for that matter, though their statute is different. Board members need to serve the best interests of the Corporation and put aside personal issues.
I think minutes need to show the priority of the Board in accordance with the Act. I think that Boards need to resolve on a path of action or be seen to be seeking advice from professionals and relying on the same. Life and safety comes first and money second. Now some may not agree with these values but I do not think that they are up for debate. Further in my experience major failure does not occur overnight. I wonder if the Boards, yes many Boards, knew the consequence of turning a blind eye – were the reports clear about what could happen? Why did the Town not piece together the data, are they experienced enough to do so?
From the data available, I believe that Unit Owners in the Surfside condominium should have been assessed (the equivalent there of in Florida) or asked to borrow the money to rectify the issue – that’s it - no debate. I think that this is where the debate typically rages.
The challenge in my mind is that they did not seem to know the gravity of the issue before them and imminent danger was not assessed. If any of the “Who’s knew of the imminent collapse, I do not doubt that they would not have taken all necessary steps to preserve life. The question remains in my mind then: what did they not know and was it willful blindness on their part? Stay tuned.
In the interim, I suggest strong reading on the Internet the New York Times’ 3D analysis of the collapse of the building, very insightful. Let me know if you need the link at email@example.com
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