Many HOAs face similar fight over costs, repairs

Long before the Champlain Towers South Condominium collapsed, the owners and the complex’s board of directors spent years clashing over the cost and extent of safety and structural repairs for the 12-story building near Miami.

“Why is all of this so complicated and expensive?” read the question that topped the board’s meeting minutes over a list of major structural problems last October as the deadline for a state-required recertification of the Surfside, Florida building approached.

On April 9, Jean Wodnicki, president of the Champlain Towers South board, warned in a letter to owners that the problems had worsened. “We have discussed, debated, and argued for years now, and will continue to do so for years to come as different items come into play,” she wrote.

“A lot of the work could have been done or planned for in years gone by. But this is where we are now,” added Wodnicki.

The disagreements represent an extreme but familiar version of the infighting and financial planning battles that play out across the nation in condos, homeowner associations and co-ops — roughly 380,000 community associations in all. Owners or shareholders of the associations square off with volunteer and sometimes inexperienced board members elected to oversee the complexes in a struggle to maintain aging buildings while keeping monthly fees low and enticing new buyers.

“There’s always pressure to put off costs for the future that might be better allocated today,” said Thomas Skiba, chief executive officer of Community Associations Institute, a Virginia-based membership organization focused on building better residential communities. “Some boards are better than others. Some communities are better than others.”

One of the most financially and emotionally fraught battle lines is special assessments. They represent levies that may total tens of thousands of dollars to pay for such things as a new roof, major plumbing problems or extensive repairs to exterior walls. A Champlain Towers South special assessment, with payments that were to have been due this month, ranged from $80,000 for a one bedroom to $336,000 for a penthouse.

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Special assessments are often necessary because the financial reserve accounts for many condos, homeowner associations and co-ops fall well short of covering the costs.

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