New Law to Empower Condo Boards When a Hurricane Strikes
It’s one of several important items boards must understand now that hurricane season has arrived
FT. LAUDERDALE, FL —The start of the 2008 hurricane season should highlight the broad new emergency powers that Florida’s approximately 25,000 condominium boards can exercise if a major storm hits the state. The powers, which address both preparations and damages, are part of a comprehensive package of community association reforms passed this year by the Florida Legislature.
Donna DiMaggio Berger, executive director of the non-profit Community Advocacy Network (CAN) and a partner in the law firm Katzman Garfinkel, said that condo advocates had been working hard to pass the emergency powers bill for the past several years.
“When we saw the great difficulties some condominium associations had in preparing and repairing their communities during storm season because of the restrictions placed on them by state law, we knew that something had to be done to take some of the legal shackles off their hands,” Berger said.
When the new laws take effect July 1, condominium boards will be able to impose assessments, freely utilize reserve funds and make necessary repairs when a state of emergency has been declared to make sure their buildings and units are fit and safe for habitation.
“Before and after a hurricane, board officers need the ability to react quickly to protect the common elements and the units, and now they have that ability,” Berger said. “There are safeguards to assure these emergency powers are not abused, but when a natural disaster strikes some of the normal rules need to be temporarily suspended for the benefit of everyone living in a condominium complex.”
However, even with the new powers, it’s often the actions a board takes before a storm that makes the major difference in recovery efforts said Alan Garfinkel, founding partner of Katzman Garfinkel, and a nationally-recognized leader in natural disaster law.
“The proper preparations are essential to maximizing your insurance benefits and achieving a full recovery,” Garfinkel said.
To ensure that an association receives all the money is deserves from its insurance carrier, Garfinkel advises that boards require their insurance agent to receive multiple quotes from different companies and prepare a written summary sheet of all coverage. The agent should also provide copies of all policies and make sure they have the lowest deductible with replacement coverage.
Garfinkel also advises creating a reserve fund for potential uninsured losses such as the deductible, securing a line of credit and lining up qualified repair professionals before a disaster strikes.
It is also important to have a plan that designates a community leader responsible for communicating with all unit owners, to identify an emergency operations location for board meetings and to keep insurance policies, property inventories and emergency contact numbers of owners in a secure location.
“Do not be fooled by cheap insurance,” Garfinkel cautions. “Make sure your deductible is low, you have replacement coverage, law and ordinance coverage, and special assessment loss coverage. We’ve seen several of examples of how this advice was not followed prior to the busy storm season we had three years ago, and unfortunately, many of those associations are still paying the price.”
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