Before making their own rules about structural inspections of decades-old condominium towers, town leaders are watching what happens in Tallahassee this legislative session in the wake of the deadly collapse of the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside.
“It absolutely was, I think, a wake-up call on the importance on a lot of things, including maintenance,” Planning, Zoning and Building Director Allen Parsons told commissioners in a workshop Sept. 27. “So, there are many things that all coastal communities here in Florida sort of share in common with some of the potential contributing factors to that tragedy.”
According to the property appraisers' offices in Manatee and Sarasota counties, the town has 62 buildings that are taller than three stories and are at least 40 years old. There are 41 in the Sarasota County portion of Longboat Key and 21 on the Manatee County side. Eleven of them were built in 1970.
Town Finance Director Susan Smith’s annual financial report states that about 72% of the available housing stock is more than 25 years ago, and nearly half of the island’s housing was built more than 35 years ago.
Town staff has continued its outreach to condo owners and associations on what they can do to ensure structural safety but no new regulations or requirements have been passed. While Longboat Key does not require building structure recertification, the town has put together a checklist of what to voluntarily examine.
State legislators will convene for three months, beginning Jan. 11. Several measures have been proposed, seeking new rules on inspections and accountability from condo associations.
“How long do we give them to act on this matter before we start taking some actions locally?” Mayor Ken Schneier asked.
Given the proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and Sarasota Bay, Longboat Key condos must deal with the effects of saltwater oxidation and corrosion.
Broward and Dade counties have local recertification requirements. In those counties, after 40 years, private property owners in condos have to hire a structural engineer to evaluate their property, and then also provide a copy of the report for the city every 10 years after that.
Former Longboat Key Mayor and current Federation of Longboat Key Condominiums board member George Spoll spent his professional career as a builder. Spoll said he thinks building reports and inspections should be provided publicly. He also does not think provisions of Florida's condominium law are strong enough.
“The real gist of what I was talking about is to try to avoid boards and communities from burying information that they should not bury,” Spoll said.
In terms of the financial reserves condos keep to make repairs, Federation of Longboat Key Condominiums President and Water Club resident David Lapovsky explained two schools of thought are typical among condo owners.
“One point of view is ‘Don’t take my money now…When something happens and you need to rebuild something, I’ll write you a check for it. Why should you hold onto my money rather than me?’” Lapovsky said. “The other point of view is, ‘I don't like surprises. I like to be insured. You take all the reserve money that you need, so that if the unthinkable ever happens, I don't have to write you a check, and I know that I'm covered.’”
Lapovsky, vice chair of Longboat Key’s Planning & Zoning Board, said condo boards must balance the two schools of thought. He also said condo buyers should ask about financial reserves before buying.
“(What) adequate (means)…is in the eye of the beholder,” Lapovsky said. “I think you want to look and see that there are reserves, period.”
Spoll said keeping condo owners safe is a “life issue.”
“It’s one thing to be negligent when it comes to appearance items, but it is not acceptable to have structural items deteriorate and not be taken care of,” Spoll said. “That’s horrible.”
Lapovsky said the Federation of Longboat Key Condominiums conducts a survey each year. It answers things like how old a condominium is and the level of financial reserves its association keeps. He said the survey results are available for town leaders to examine.
“If the town needed to know something, my offer would be that we could go survey our members and learn what they’ve done relating to this subject,” Lapovsky said.