By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
A recent article in the Venice Gondolier Sun shines light on a hidden health hazard in Florida — radon gas. When condo owners discover excessive levels of the cancer-causing gas, they might find their condo associations uncooperative in solving the problem.
When Tony and Judy Turlenko asked their condo association, South Preserve II of Waterside Village, for permission to add a radon mitigation system in their rented condo unit, they received a surprising response.
The condo association would grant approval under one condition — the Turlenkos would be held legally responsible if, by diverting radon from their unit, it funneled radon into neighboring units.
Obviously, this condition is meant to protect the interests of the condo association. But it creates an unacceptable level of risk for unit owners such as the Turlenkos.
So the radon problem, at this time, remains unresolved.
A radon headache in Venice
By GREG GILES News Editor, Venice Gondolier Sun
Nov 24, 2018
Tony and Judy Turlenko were mortified when their condo tenant showed them that a radon test of the unit was positive.
Radon is naturally occurring gas that can cause cancer.
The Turlenkos were a bit perplexed their renters had taken it upon themselves to order the test, but they didn’t hesitate to put them up in a hotel.
One of the few radon mitigation companies in Sarasota County, Radon Authority, found the unit in the South Preserve II of Waterside Village Condomiums, off Jacaranda Boulevard, was 21.1 pCi/L (picoCuries per liter), well over the 4.0 pCi/L level considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency. Levels can get into the hundreds.
But Radon Authority would require them, per EPA rules, to inform their neighbors of the mitigation process. It also asked the Turlenkos to sign an “inadvertent collateral mitigation form” stating the company can’t be responsible for any environmental impacts on adjoining units.
“Collateral mitigation may intentionally or inadvertently extend influence to multiple areas within a shared building,” reads an addendum to the Turlenkos’ contract.
On Oct. 16, Debbie Green of Capri Property Management Inc, responded on behalf of the HOA stating she had consulted with the association’s attorney and insurance representative.
“It was determined that the radon levels exist within the unit boundaries, which is the owner’s responsibility,” Green wrote.
The association gave its approval to the exterior wall modification and agreed to expedite the matter — if the Turlenkos would sign an agreement making them liable for any radon infiltration into another condo due to the mitigation process.
The Turlenkos’ attorney said they’d be crazy to sign the agreement.
What’s the solution?
The best solution, of course, would entail the condo association installing on radon reduction system for the entire building.
However, the logistics and politics of doing the right thing would be messy and complicated. The condo association would need the cooperation of all unit owners, from testing to construction to payment of additional condo fees to cover the cost of the project.
But, instead of owners and residents of the condo association working together to find reasonable solutions, South Preserve II is now involved in a three-way legal dispute between the condo HOA, the Turlenkos, and Turlenkos’ tenants.
Radon problem could have been prevented
Health officials in the State of Florida have known about the presence and dangers of radon for years. And, according to some experts, radon is quite common in Floridian homes, and even more prevalent in multifamily construction.
So, between 1989 and 1995, the Florida Department of Community Affairs enacted an “optional” buidling code to mitigate radon in the construction stages. Unfortunately, most Counties chose not to mandate radon reduction systems in new construction.
Although radon mitigation systems have been around for decades, most Floridian home builders don’t test for radon gas. Single family home buyers can opt to test add a radon reduction system when they build a new home.
But that’s not an option available to most condo buyers. And, due to complexity of design and added costs, builders seldom incorporate a radon mitigation system in multifamily construction.
And that, in a nutshell, explains why condo associations, in Florida and elsewhere, find themselves with a big common interest ‘radon headache,’ for which there’s no easy cure.
State finds high levels of cancer-linked radon in some S. Florida homes
Staff Writer, Sun Sentinel
November 21, 20014
It’s an indoor air threat — a cause of lung cancer — that slips invisibly into a home. You can’t see, taste or smell radon, a radioactive gas exhaled by the ground below you, created by disintegrating uranium in rock and soil.
Out of sight, radon also remains out of mind for much of South Florida.
Many people know little about the naturally-occurring gas, despite estimated deaths of between 15,000 and 22,000 people a year, according the National Academy of Sciences.
Yet, according to test results compiled by the state, radon invades thousands of South Florida homes at levels the federal Environmental Protection Agency deems potentially dangerous to inhabitants.
The Florida Building Code addresses radon prevention in new residential construction, but its radon-resistant building standards are optional — tucked into the code’s appendices. Counties can adopt them voluntarily but only one, Hernando, has done so, said state officials.
The standards — developed by the Florida Department of Community Affairs from 1989 to 1995 with funding from a building permit surcharge — were not made part of the regular building code because the issue was controversial and mandatory radon-proofing would boost construction costs, said Jack Glenn, technical services director for the Florida Homebuilders Association. Also, radon was an obvious problem only in some parts of Florida and officials “didn’t want to paint the entire state with a broad brush,” Glenn said.
Note: According to public records, South Preserve II at Waterside Village was incorporated and developed in 2005, long after County officials and home builders knew about high levels of radon in South Florida.
Opinion: an eye toward a future without radon
Moving forward, state officials should consider the long-term impacts to Florida’s health care budget, as aging residents seek medical care for lung cancer following decades of preventable radon exposure.
And state lawmakers should also acknowledge that condo associations face the risk of lawsuits brought by residents and survivors of residents who were exposed to deadly radon gas.
Lawmakers should consider mandating radon mitigation in the interest of public health. Additionally, pollcy makers must consider state assistance programs to help condo owners pay for radon reduction systems for each affected multifamily structure.
But, most importantly, state laws should require all future new multifamily homebuilders to test for and install radon reduction systems during construction.
After all, it’s much better to prevent condo association risks and conflicts, than it is to find acceptable solutions after the damage is done.