In May of 2018, at about the same time the engineer was advising Champlain Towers South that their building need millions and millions of dollars in repairs, I wrote about the dangers facing condominiums all over the state because of the ability for owners to opt out of funding reserve accounts. I implored The Florida Legislature to get tough when it comes to reserves and make them at least partially mandatory. We know that as a result of the tragedy in Surfside, now The Florida Legislature will be forced to look long and hard for the first time at making condominium residents across our state put money away for major expensive repairs, or continue to allow many associations to ignore the necessary repairs and keep kicking the can down the road.
I can tell you right now that lobbyists who represent developers and contractors will try to prevent new laws requiring developers to fund reserve accounts before turnover, and even the residents after turnover. Why? Because it will make it harder to sell condominium units if reserves are mandatory. That means monthly assessments will be higher and units may not sell so quickly. They will make arguments like the government should be less intrusive into the lives of our Florida condominium residents and If the residents don’t want to fund reserves they know the risk. Right. And cigarettes don’t cause cancer.
Today, I’m simply going to reprint, verbatim, my blog written in May, 2018 below. Your thoughts are welcome.
SHOULD RESERVES BE MANDATORY?
I hate beating around the bush, so I want to get to the point. A financial crisis is coming and it’s going to be a big one. It’s also going to hit those that can least afford it. It’s going to result in massive amounts of foreclosures. It’s going to result in countless cases of elderly persons being displaced from their homes. The worst part is, it’s absolutely avoidable but I don’t believe any legislator would ever have the courage to float a bill to save the pending disaster.
My last 24 hours made it clear to me what’s on the way. I was at a meeting last night in a 55 and over condominium that is about 40 years old. Elderly unit owners were complaining that the pipes are getting old, there are occasional leaks, and they sometimes have to come out of pocket a few hundred bucks in order to clean up the mess in their unit and/or repair that broken pipe. They are complaining about bills for a few hundred bucks and find it difficult to pay them because their sole income is social security.
To state the obvious, there is no reserve account. There never will be. Generally, senior citizens don’t believe in reserving funds for repairs that may be necessary a decade or two from now because they believe they won’t be here anyway. So, year after year goes by, decade after decade goes by and there is never a reserve fund to fall back on should a major repair become necessary. As I write this column, the season’s first storm is forming in the Gulf, and it’s still May. We all know what just one storm can do to the community’s finances. Even if we are lucky to escape this year, next year and the next five years without a hurricane or tropical storm coming, there is another storm coming that is simply unavoidable and definitely on its way.
Think of how much building has gone on in the past 50 years. It is staggering. But the buildings are getting older. As the buildings start to approach the 40 year mark or more, things start to break down and repairs become unavoidable. Concrete restoration is incredibly expensive, and unavoidable. Replacement of pipes is incredibly expensive, and unavoidable. And the same goes for electrical renovations and roof replacements. All unavoidable. Yet, so many people, especially seniors, are rolling the dice thinking that none of these repairs will be necessary while they own the property. That may be true for now, but eventually, everyone rolls a 7.
If you roll a 7 at the craps table however, you get up and go home. If you roll a 7 at the condo and all these repairs are necessary while you’re the owner, you may lose your home because year after year after year you decided to waive the funding of reserves and now you have nothing to fall back on.
So what’s the answer? I know this is going to sound unpopular, but if action is not taken now it’s going to result in much bigger problems of people losing their homes later on. So, like it or not, some form of reserves should be mandatory and not subject to being waived. There, I said it. Let’s streamline the way reserves are calculated. Let’s get rid of the “life expectancy” formula the state says you should follow but nobody does. It’s a joke anyway. We all know the truth that the life expectancy of the roof somehow gets longer, the closer you get to the original estimate of how long it was going to last. Five years ago it had a five year life expectancy. Money is tight, so today it has a new 10 year life expectancy. Somehow, like fine wine, the roof got better with age. We all know that happens, and it happens every day. So how about we make things simple. Let’s just say every condominium must contribute 10% of its annual budget to reserves for roof, plumbing, electrical, structural and painting. It all goes into one pot and it can be used for any repair necessary for those categories. It can’t be waived. If however an association wants to contribute more, they can.
If we implemented this, I’m guessing the average monthly increase for most condominiums that are not already reserving funds would be anywhere from $25.00 to $75.00 per month. I know that for some that increase is not easy. However, it’s going to be a lot more expensive if any one of these inevitable repairs become necessary and it’s time to pass a special assessment because there are no reserve funds. God forbid two of these items need repair. Sorry, but it’s still easier for a person on a fixed income to pay an extra 30 or 40 dollars per month than it is to come up with a special assessment of a few grand.
Mandatory reserves, for even modest amounts, is a necessary evil. I say so because I see the hand writing on the wall. I see buildings getting older and unavoidable repairs coming on strong. I also see hurricane seasons becoming active with the potential to cause catastrophic results to our communities. I see fear in the faces of senior citizens now when faced with small special assessments. What I don’t see is sound financial planning for the inevitable, and I don’t want to see people, especially the elderly, losing their homes when they don’t have the money to pony up and fix up their homes when a special assessment comes their way.
This year The Florida Legislature looked into the future and envisioned that in the next decade or so, we will all be driving electric cars. So, they bravely passed an electric vehicle statute to deal with that issue right now, before the issue got out of hand a decade from now. I’m asking them to do the same thing now and protect people from losing their homes over the next decade or two by ensuring the condo has a piggy bank to shake lose when massive expensive repairs become unavoidably necessary. Mandatory reserves are needed now.