Confessions of a South Florida condo board member: It’s worse than you think

·4-min read
Building Collapse Miami (Miami Herald)
Building Collapse Miami (Miami Herald)

The news reports of Surfside’s tragic events give me daily déjà vu. Everything being said about the condo board of the collapsed building is an echo chamber of my own situation.

I live in an oceanfront condo, slightly older than the one in Surfside. I’ve been a board member on and off for the past fifteen years. We are a self-managed building like Champlain Towers which means we have zero expertise in building management. Most of us wouldn’t know rebar from concrete if it hit us in the head.

We’ve had an almost annual revolving door of managers and office staff. Once, we had a Nixon-like “Saturday massacre” when the entire office staff and manager were fired by the board in one afternoon. There was no backup plan. For a while, residents had to take over the building administration and provided free services like dealing with vendors, chasing delinquent maintenance fees, managing bank accounts and resolving legal issues.

Why don’t boards do their jobs? Because boards are often filled with egomaniacs, bullies, and incompetents. Many of these people held important jobs before retiring and are used to being in charge; some need a project because they’re bored. Typically, none of these condo “commandos” have experience running a multimillion-dollar operation and a multi-story condo. Condo boards are often rife with nepotism, cronyism — more “ism’s” to fill the (expensive, badly maintained) pool.

Like the Surfside condo, we have had a slew of board resignations over the past years. Usually it happens after a “flame” email exchange laced with profanity. There have also been back-door machinations to oust board members by other members. One unpopular board member sold his unit and threatened to stay on the board forever because our by-laws allowed it. He eventually resigned. That condo bylaw has not been updated since the late 70’s.

Pre-pandemic, most in-person board meetings with residents became shouting matches. Abusive language and bad behavior were commonplace. Meetings in some condos got so heated that security guards were hired in case residents became violent.

We caught a break during the pandemic when we could meet on Zoom. I thank God for the mute button. When unmuted, the name-calling and accusations flew. Some folks are technically challenged, and we only see the tops of their heads or a blank screen. One resident didn’t mute and had nasty argument with his wife on camera. Boomers love their happy hour, and some join the Zoom meetings inebriated.

We had a “ballot bandit” one year who was filmed messing with ballot envelopes in our mail slots. That prompted us to start electronic voting. This thwarted some older residents who enjoyed making dramatic entrances at the annual meeting, holding up their ballot and ceremoniously placing it in the ballot box. There was disappointment during Covid when in-person meeting and voting was not an option.

Last year, there was an uprising of a couple of dozen residents who tried to get the board to address major projects. I assisted the “rebels” and helped create the action list. The rebels may threaten someday to recall the entire board per Florida condo laws. I would gladly be recalled and with pleasure. Only problem is: no one wants to serve on the board, especially since the recent Surfside event.

We can only be rescued by demographics. With the current influx of younger people and early retirees, there is hope a new board will eventually be voted in.

Why did I stick it out? I was foolish enough to think I could make a difference by suggesting we revisit a competent professional management company. A committee was set up, but, as usual, the board dropped the ball. We need professionals running the building with no interference from amateurs, but the amateurs can’t let go.

So why have I not moved? I love living on the ocean and got a good deal back in the 90’s. I’ve spent too much money upgrading my unit and don’t want to allow these clowns to chase me from the home I love.

Nevertheless, the events and my situation have compelled me to revisit that choice. I may — gasp — have to move inland.

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