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Storm damage shows ways to improve planning

Our condo roof was badly damaged in one of the recent hurricanes. Our deductible is 3 percent of the value of our building, or almost $100,000. We hate to impose a special assessment and would rather not borrow the money. Can we withdraw funds from several of our reserve accounts? These would be accounts other than our roof fund, which is badly depleted because we installed a new roof two years ago.

Either do a special assessment or call a members' meeting to approve use of the reserves. Many of your owners should have insurance that includes loss-assessment coverage. If the board approves a special assessment, owners can report the loss as a claim and should be able to collect much of the cost of the special assessment.

Let this be a lesson to study your insurance coverage and your deductibles. With three back-to-back storms you may have to pay the deductible for each storm. I strongly urge that your reserves for next year include an amount to meet your deductibles.

Penny-wise, pound foolish

Our board declined to renew our insurance last spring because of the high cost. Now that hurricanes have damaged our building, who pays?

You and your neighbors will pay. In voting to go without insurance, the board may have violated its fiduciary duty to protect the assets of the association. You could sue the board, but that would be at your expense, and you might not recover enough to cover your repair costs. Dig deep, come up with the money, and start the repairs. Then elect a new board that will operate the asociation properly. This was a very expensive way to try to save money.

Employees need to prepare, too

All of our employees were sent home when a hurricane watch was posted. No one was on duty during the storm, and they didn't come back as soon as the watch was lifted. The management told the board that the staff couldn't come in, but some staff members told me they weren't called in. Is this good management? What can we do?

First, show a little compassion. Hurricanes are incredibly stressful, on you and on the employees. Like you, they needed to make sure before the storm that their families and homes were protected. After the storm, the roads may have been impassable, preventing them from returning to work, or they may have needed to stay home to repair damage.

I know what it's like to sustain losses in a hurricane, and I've had employees who were wiped out. It's fortunate that you sustained no damage from the hurricane. This is a good time for your board to review the recent hurricanes and develop an emergency plan.

Maintaining retention ponds

Hurricane rains have filled our retention ponds to overflowing and several homes are threatened. These ponds have never been serviced except to cut the grass. Is the association responsible for flooding and water damage to the homes?

No. Losses from acts of God, such as a hurricane, are usually at the expense of the owner and not a third party, i.e., the association.

You bring up an important fact about retention ponds or areas designed to hold floodwaters or storm runoff: These common areas require maintenance other than just cutting grass. Every few years, the bottom should be removed or agitated, an expense that should be anticipated in the reserve budget.

Retention ponds collect rainwater and chemical runoff. The water percolates through the bottom of the pond, leaving a residue that requires removal every few years. Many of the ponds have a skimming device called a weir, which should be checked periodically to see that it is functioning properly. If the weir is plugged or fails to drain properly, it could be a major cause of the rising water and flooding.

Richard White is a licensed community associations manager. Write to him c/o Community Living, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Sorry, he can't take phone calls or provide personal replies by mail, but you can e-mail him at CAMquestionsatt.net. Please include your name and city. Questions should concern association operations; legal opinions cannot be offered. For specific legal advice, contact an association attorney.

Readers may call the state Division of Condominiums Bureau of Customer Service at toll-free 1-800-226-9101 with questions or requests for materials. Access the Bureau of Condominiums Web site at http://www.state.fl.us/dbpr/lsc/index.shtml; or write to Bureau of Customer Service, 1940 N Monroe St., Northwood Centre, Tallahassee, FL 32399-1032.

SHARE NEWS OF YOUR HURRICANE DAMAGE

Did you sustain damage from Charley, Frances or Ivan? I'm planning a report on hurricane damage and insurance coverage at condos and homeowner associations and would like to gather details from around the state. Please drop me an e-mail with your name and address, the association's name, and a brief description of the damage. (Please do not attach photographs to your e-mail, but send them to me by U.S. mail.) E-mail me at CAMquestionsatt.net. Write me c/o Community Living, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

_ RICHARD WHITE

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