- A condominium association is facing three lawsuits over last week’s building collapse in Florida.
- Residents say the board should have acted more quickly to address much-needed repairs.
- The association says it never received warnings of an imminent threat from experts.
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The condominium association for Champlain Tower South, the Florida building that collapsed last week resulting in the deaths of at least 16 residents, never received any indication from experts that the building was at imminent risk of collapse, a spokesperson told Insider.
Maxwell Marcucci, director of the crisis communications firm Levick, told Insider that the board was made up entirely of volunteers who were also unit owners – one of whom is now among the 147 missing residents.
“The board is not comprised of engineers or building experts,” Marcucci said. “They hired experts and they trusted experts, and at no time did the experts ever indicate that there was any imminent threat.”
In the days since the collapse, media outlets have revealed documents showing that an engineering firm had found “major structural damage” to the building in 2018, and suggesting that the condo association struggled to convince residents that a $15 million special assessment for repairs was necessary.
The cause of the collapse remains unclear. Some structural engineers have expressed doubts that the concerns raised in the 2018 report were linked to the June 24 disaster, but the condo association has defended its actions and pushed back against allegations that it acted negligently.
A lawyer representing the board, Donna DiMaggio Berger, told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Monday that the cost of the special assessment had been so steep because “a 12-story building on a barrier island that’s 40 years old – it’s gonna need a lot of work.”
She also suggested that the $15 million price tag was a result of how relatively little funding the building had in reserves, a matter she said was out of the hands of the condo association.
Florida statutes stipulate that condo associations must establish reserves, but allow for the unit owners to meet each budget year and “determine whether to waive or reduce the funding of reserves.”
“Guess who waives reserves, Chris? It is not the board,” Berger said. “Under Florida law, the board has to create an operating budget with reserves, but it’s up to the members. And a majority of members can vote to waive reserves each year.”
In an April 2021 letter to residents obtained by The Wall Street Journal, the condo association president, Jean Wodnicki, noted that some residents “believe we are assessing too much” for the repairs. She also alluded in the letter to years-long debates and arguments over the repair projects, and noted that the reserves would only supply $700,000 of the total estimated cost of $16.2 million.
“A lot of this work could have been done or planned for in years gone by. But this is where we are now,” Wodnicki wrote in the letter obtained by the Journal.