Monday, August 2

Miami building owners faced $ 15 million in repairs

(CNN) — Condo owners in the South Florida tower that collapsed last week faced appraisals for millions of dollars in repairs, with payments set to begin a week after the building’s fatal collapse.

The Champlain Towers South condo association approved a $ 15 million appraisal in April to complete the repairs required under the county’s 40-year recertification process, according to documents obtained by CNN.

The documents show that more than two years had passed since the association members received a report on “major structural damage” to the building before starting the assessment process to pay for the necessary repairs.

The owners would have had to pay appraisals ranging from US $ 80,190 for one-bedroom units to US $ 336,135 for the owner of the four-bedroom penthouse, according to a document sent to residents of the building. The deadline to pay in advance or choose to pay a monthly fee that lasts 15 years was July 1.

A detailed list of planned repairs included new pavers, landscaping and waterproofing, addressing some of the issues noted in a 2018 engineer report, which warned how water leaks were causing the concrete to deteriorate. The most expensive project on the list was “facade, balcony and rail repairs,” for $ 3.4 million.

The 2018 report, prepared for the condo association, had previously estimated that necessary repairs to the Surfside, Florida building would cost about $ 9.1 million. It is not clear whether the problems identified by Frank Morabito, the structural engineer who produced the report, contributed to the disaster.

The large bill came as an unpleasant surprise to some owners of the 136 units in the building.

“We struggled with that and everything,” said Isabel Agüero, who owns an apartment on the 11th floor in the part of the building that remained standing. He said he thought most of the item lines seemed more intended for aesthetic improvements rather than structural fixes to the building, such as $ 722,000 for “hallway and public area renovations.”

Agüero and her husband decided to go with the monthly payment and submitted the documentation on June 23 for the association to begin adding $ 593 to their homeowners fees, they said. Early the next morning, the building collapsed.

The couple bought their apartment two years ago with plans to retire there. But they said they hadn’t spent a lot of time on it, as its furniture renovations and deliveries were delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Story of a couple who escaped the collapse 2:05

His son, Albert Agüero, was in the tower on vacation with his wife and two children when it collapsed. They woke up to an awful noise and shaking, and “when we opened the door, we realized how much damage had occurred,” he said. “The apartment on the left appeared to have been cut in half.”

He said there had been work on the roof of the building since the beginning of this year “that woke us up every morning with drilling.” But the largest structural construction had yet to begin, according to a statement from the engineering company that produced the 2018 report.

Albert said he was distraught reading the warnings in the 2018 report, which he had never seen until after the building collapsed.

“At the time I was quite angry, angry that innocent lives had to be lost,” he said.

Condominium Association Under Scrutiny

Since the collapse, the condo association has come under scrutiny for the years lag between the alarming 2018 report and the building overhaul. Its representatives have indicated that they were delayed by the pandemic and had to take the time to issue competitive offers for the work.

“We have board members who live here, they had their families living here and they are among the missing, so if they knew there was a dangerous problem, they certainly would have taken care of it,” Donna DiMaggio Berger, an attorney for the Champlain Towers Condominium Association.

A Surfside city official had previously assured the association that his building was “in very good condition” in November 2018, minutes of the meeting obtained by CNN show, even though he had received the structural damage report. two days before.

Rosendo Prieto, who was working as a city construction official at the time, made the remarks at a meeting of the tower’s condominium association more than two years before the building’s collapse, according to minutes from the Nov. 15 meeting. of 2018.

“The structural engineer report was reviewed by Mr. Prieto,” the minutes read, in an apparent reference to Morabito’s report. Although Prieto noted that the report “was not in the 40-year certification format, it determined that the necessary data was collected and it appears that the building is in very good condition,” the minutes say.

A condo resident, Susana Álvarez, told NPR that she attended the meeting, which was held in the building’s recreation room, and recalled that a city representative said that “the building was not in poor condition.” .

Where did the Miami building collapse start? 2:48

Prieto no longer works for Surfside and has not responded to requests for comment from CNN.

Two days before the meeting, on November 13, 2018, a member of the condominium board, Mara Chouela, sent Prieto a copy of the structural engineer report, according to an email released by the city on Saturday.

And the day after the meeting, Prieto sent another email to Guillermo Olmedillo, the former city manager, saying that the condominium board meeting “went very well.”

“The response from everyone in the room was very positive,” Prieto wrote in the November 16 email, which was released by the city on Sunday. “All major concerns about their forty-year recertification process were addressed.”

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