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The Tragedy of Surfside, Florida
I’m sure you share my horror and despair over the still-unfolding tragedy in Surfside, Florida. The loss of life, the uncertainty regarding those yet unaccounted for, the terror at the idea that a similar calamity could befall any of us, the suffering of the victims and their loved ones … it all is almost too much to bear.
The grief and fear have hit my common interest community clients especially hard. Could this happen to us? Should we be afraid? How do we protect ourselves? Will damage bankrupt the association and its members?
My counsel is simple: Don’t panic, prepare. Taking that counsel begins with obtaining and adhering to a Reserve Study.
According to Guidelines for the Development of Reserve Studies for Capital Components, adopted by the Virginia Common Interest Community Board on September 5, 2019, a Reserve Study can be understood as follows:
A reserve study is a capital budget planning tool used to determine the physical status and repair or replacement cost of a community’s capital components, and an analysis of an association’s funding capacity to maintain, repair, and replace capital components ….
There are two components of a reserve study: (i) a physical analysis and (ii) a financial analysis. The physical analysis provides information about the physical status and the repair or replacement cost of components the association is obligated to maintain. The physical analysis entails conducting an inventory of components, an assessment of component condition, and life and valuation estimates. The financial analysis assesses the association’s reserve income and expenses, by examining the reserve fund status, measured in cash or percent funded, and recommending an appropriate contribution for the fund.
There are companies that specialize in evaluating communities and preparing the reports that can guide Boards. They are worth their weight in gold.
Before Surfside, frankly, many of my clients did not take Reserve Studies seriously. Maybe they would get them, maybe they would not. Maybe they would put away some money, maybe they would borrow from that pool of reserve funds to deal with other association business. If we have learned anything from the Florida tragedy, we have learned that buildings do not get stronger over time, particularly if they are neglected, and procrastination is not a community’s financial friend when it comes to building the reserve accounts that will allow proactivity in addressing capital improvements.
While we do not know with precision what caused that Florida condominium to collapse, we do know, as John Bradford said paraphrasing Corinthians, “there but for the grace of God, goes I.” The startling lesson of Surfside is that Directors of condominium, cooperative, and property owners’ association Boards must have a healthy respect for the physical structures for which they are responsible. As a practical matter, that means obtaining timely reserve studies from reliable and experienced professionals, building reserve accounts in accordance with the financial benchmarks outlined in the studies, and implementing the changes proactively.
Be safe out there.
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