Standards, Best Practices, and Public Policy Following Surfside Condo Collapse

by Dawn Bauman, CAE | July 8, 2021


The past two weeks have been devastating after witnessing the partial collapse of the Champlain Tower South condominium in Surfside, Fla., learning of the lives that perished, and seeing the tragedy’s impact on survivors and those in the immediate community. An investigation into the cause of the condo collapse is ongoing; standards of practice and legal requirements related to ensuring maintenance and structural integrity of condominiums understandably are coming under scrutiny.

While community associations have been in existence for more than a century, the rise in condominium developments began in the 1970s and has remained steady ever since. Condominiums are home to millions of people in the U.S., and government officials at the local, state, and federal levels have started pondering what changes need to occur to prevent a similar building collapse from happening again.

CAI’s Government and Public Affairs Committee recently convened a special meeting with experts representing attorneys, builders, reserve specialists, and insurance specialists to discuss current best practices, standards, and public policies related to condominium structural requirements. This working group will help CAI establish guidance and model language for CAI’s state legislative action committees as well as considerations for state legislators. Below are the overarching themes of the discussion:

Building inspections and maintenance. Several counties in Florida have inspection obligations that require a structural and electrical engineer or architect to conduct a building inspection and certify the safety of the building. New York City and other localities have similar requirements. CAI is studying these requirements to help develop standards for condominiums and other high-rise residential buildings.

Reserve study planning. Reserve studies for condominium associations are currently required in nine states: California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, and Washington state. Washington statutorily encourages associations to have a reserve study performed every three years unless doing so would impose an unreasonable hardship. Florida statute does not require a reserve study but requires a reserve schedule for repair and replacement of major components.

The Foundation for Community Association Research has a Best Practices Report on reserve studies and reserves management that was updated in 2020. CAI is reviewing reserve funding best practices and requirements to determine if changes are needed.

Funding for maintenance, repair, and replacement of major components. Condominium associations are required to have reserve funding for maintenance, repair, and replacement of major components in 11 states: Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, and Oregon. CAI will be exploring tax benefits to incentivize association reserve funding as well as for special assessments and loans used to fund component maintenance, repair, and replacement.

Insurance. CAI is reviewing best practices and standards for adequate insurance coverage for condominiums and individual units.

CAI is uniquely positioned to lead the conversation on these standards, best practices, and policy changes to benefit our more than 42,000 members, the 73.5 million Americans living in community associations, and the millions more living in community associations around the world. We will continue to engage in conversations with members, experts, and stakeholders in the community association housing model to strengthen existing standards and public policy in these areas.

Right now CAI is providing information and resources to help concerned residents and board members understand structural integrity, maintenance, and reserves.

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