How to get condo board members the professional help they need

·3 min read

I know a lot of condominium association board members, and it’s always struck me that they have one of the worst jobs in South Florida.

Think about it: Condo association board members have real accountability but little real authority.

That’s because condominium by-laws dictate that most major decisions — especially those involving a lot of money — be put to a vote among the unit owners. And if you think people tend to vote their pocketbook in political elections; believe me this is in a league of its own! Between their mortgages, real estate taxes, insurances and monthly maintenance fees, many condo unit owners feel they’re already paying enough. The last thing they want is to fork over more dough for building repairs and upgrades.

For decades, that crack in the parking garage wall, or that protruding rusty rebar in the balcony ceiling, or that dangling chunk of broken concrete all looked expensive — but nothing to worry about, at least not for now.

That’s changed. Since the tragic disaster in Surfside, those same cracks, concrete spalls, rusting and loose chunks of concrete can be cause for immediate concern. Instead of kicking the can down the road, some unit owners are making different demands, asking their condo board members for reassurances that the community can sleep safely at night, and that any needed repairs will be done right away.

Politicians, government officials and insurance companies are jumping in as well. After years of lax enforcement of building inspection requirements, they’re starting to take things more seriously, publishing lists of buildings that are past due for review and, in some rare cases, condemning buildings altogether and forcing residents to find alternative shelter.

As a result, now more than ever, condominium association board members are caught between a rock and a hard place. They have fiduciary and statutory responsibility to properly maintain their buildings. They’re entrusted by unit owners to ensure safety. And they’re held accountable by a corps of government officials who don’t want to get caught looking the other way.

All this at a time when the cost of building supplies is rising and competent and experienced structural engineers and general contractors are busier than ever.

A job that used to be merely hard and frustrating has now become truly daunting. While many association board members are accomplished professionals who are experts in their own fields, most of them aren’t engineers or general contractors. So, they aren’t fully prepared for the complexities, nuances and problems that come with every construction project.

But there is way to help guide condo boards through this mess.

Big companies and government agencies typically rely on professional project managers to handle complex projects. Their role is to 1.) protect the owners’ interests and 2.) to complete the project with planning, forethought and competence.

Good project managers are masters at organizing the team of people who will work on the project, coordinating their efforts, scheduling work and logistics, identifying and solving problems, handling documentation, controlling the budget and communicating with everyone concerned.

The ideal firm should have three key ingredients:

  1. Outstanding project management skills and track record;

  2. Extensive experience and subject matter expertise in all aspects of construction;

  3. Deep understanding of association governance, politics and the unique challenges of executing a disruptive and dirty construction project in a fully occupied building.

The job of a condominium association board member will always be hard. But with the right kind of help it can be made easier.

Adam Snitzer is chief financial officer of DSS Condo, LLC, South Florida’s only construction project management/owners’ representative firm specializing exclusively in serving condominium and homeowners communities. He can be reached via email at adam@dsscondo.com. For more information about DSS Condo, visit www.dsscondo.com.

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