Two years after Wilma, life’s still a struggle at many condos

Mar 19, 2008

South Florida Sun-Sentinel–Mar. 19, 2008
Joe Kollin

Twenty-nine months after Hurricane Wilma, residents of some devastated condo communities are finally seeing some progress, while others continue to struggle.

Steve Weiss, his wife and four children have been living in motels since Wilma destroyed their three-bedroom, three-bath townhouse in Shaker Village in Tamarac. This week, they hope to finally move back home.

When they return, repairs will still be going on. Some electrical fixtures won’t work, some new drywall will need replacing, a large window won’t close properly and the downstairs floors will be concrete rather than tile.

“I’m one of the lucky ones. There are others being told it will take still more time,” said Weiss, a maintenance worker whose association was responsible for all the repairs. The board blamed the delay on a lack of money and had to raise $900,000 with special assessments.

At the 66-unit, 11-building Westview 3 condo association in Pembroke Pines, the owners are already living at home, but that doesn’t mean everything is OK.

“We’re as close to receivership as we can get,” said association president Ida Bernal. “We’re trying to avoid it with all our might but our hands are tied.”

Bernal said roofs still leak, drywall remains rotten and the board needs $1 million to make all the homes livable.

“But people became hostile and stopped paying their maintenance, so we can’t pay our bills and can’t get any work done,” she said.

Six units are in foreclosure, eight are in the hands of a debt collector and 20 are ready for lien filings.

“We can’t get loans — a couple of banks have turned us down based on the record of delinquencies,” she added.

Wilma destroyed the porch in Margalit Ratner’s third-floor apartment in the Brighton section of Century Village of Boca Raton and she still can’t use it. Although she loved sitting out in the fresh air, she now must block the porch with wood. When her 4- and 6-year-old grandchildren visit, as they will in April for Passover, she puts up even more wood to make sure they can’t enter the porch.

“I can’t leave them alone in case they find a way to move the wood,” she said, adding that her board keeps promising to take care of it, but nothing gets done.

“Obviously, I want to cry over it,” she said.

Ruth Barshow, treasurer of Oakridge D in Century Village of Deerfield Beach, has a different concern.

She wants to know what happens when owners, with the board’s blessing, arrange for repair work, knowing they will get reimbursed when the insurance check arrives.

In her community, some of those owners have died or moved.

Barshow maintains the board must track down heirs and sellers. Other residents disagree, saying the board need only make a minimal effort and if it can’t find anyone to reimburse, the money should go into a fund for a common purpose, such as landscaping.

The master association’s attorney, Mark Bogen, said boards must make an effort, but need not go out and look for everyone. They must, however, set the money aside in a fund in case it is claimed.


Q Do boards have time limits for deciding if someone should be allowed to buy a house or condo unit? Readers complain boards take so long to decide, their mortgage rates go up in the meantime.

A State law imposes no time limit on boards responding to a prospective buyer’s application, says attorney Gaël Beriro of Palm Beach. Association governing documents generally set the terms for approval or denial of an application but don’t always have time limits. Since it is in the interest of the owners, as prospective sellers, to have time limits, associations can hold votes to amend their documents, he added.