By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
On March 22, CBS in Boston reported that residents of 3 condos were displaced from their building when a wall collapsed in the middle of the night. According to the report, one woman had to be rescued by the local fire department. Fortunately there were no injuries.
A few days ago, Fox 25 Boston aired a report about one of the former owners of the O Street property, Pablo Rojas. He had lived on the third floor of a 3-unit condominium in the century old structure.
The cause of the collapse is unknown, and, according to Rojas, the association had no current insurance policy to cover their losses. Rojas’ coworkers organized a fund raiser to help him get back on his feet.
Coworkers raising money for man whose condo building collapsed
Updated: Apr 23, 2017 – 10:08 PM
BOSTON – An empty space is all that remains of three condos from a South Boston building, more than a century old.
In the early morning hours of March 22, the side wall on the O Street triple decker suddenly partially collapsed. Only one resident was home, and she was able to safely escape with the help of police.
The city declared the building a total loss, and it has since been demolished.
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This story raises several important issues.
First, it is important to recognize that association-governed communities come in all sizes, from a few as two units, up to hundreds or even thousands of units.
But small condo communities such at the one on O Street are particularly vulnerable to financial catastrophes, as well as intensely personal conflict among neighbors in the association.
Costs of maintenance and insurance, in this case, were only shared among three members. So each member is highly likely to encounter thousands of dollars in unexpected expenses for repair or maintenance, especially in a 100-year-old building.
In the case of a very small association, there is often no board of directors. Instead, all unit owners must work out an agreement to contribute to ongoing maintenance and upkeep. In a perfect world, in a 3-unit building, all three unit owners would regularly meet, share the workload, and/or pay their fair share to hire contractors or other experts as needed.
In the real world, one unit owner might end up doing most of the work and constantly reminding her neighbors to pay their assessments.
If owners communicate well with one another, they will have a maintenance plan and a reasonable budget. But what if the owners don’t get along well? Or, even if relations are friendly, what if no one is an effective planner?
In this case, no one took responsibility to renew insurance policies for the condo building. That is a very big mistake that has cost all three association members dearly.
Another issue that may come up, especially in old buildings that have been chopped up into several separate dwellings, is the possibility that shoddy or unsafe renovations have been done at some point in the past. In this particular case, there is no determination of the cause of a wall collapsing. Did someone renovate their unit and remove a load-bearing wall?
Or there could be deferred maintenance. Was there a termite infestation that had gone undetected? Was water from the roof or rain gutters causing damage to a brick wall or a stone foundation?
The cause of collapse may never be determined.
Many of these small condo associations began as single family homes that were later divided into separate apartments. Later on, some owners decided to sell the units as condos.
But there is a big difference between being a tenant and a condo owner.
A tenant’s only responsibility is to pay rent every month, and purchase a renter’s insurance policy to cover personal belongings in the event of a loss. The landlord-owner takes care of maintenance and insurance for the building.
When a tenants needs change, it is relatively easy to not renew the lease and move on to the next place.
But when you own a condo in a 2, 3, or 4-unit structure, you do not have the luxury of leaving maintenance and financial decisions to someone else. If you do, you can end up like Rojas, losing everything.