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Condo ownership in Florida: What to know before you buy

Attorney emphasizes looking at stability of building not just unit
Champlain Towers North twin building to collapsed condominium, June 24, 2021
Posted at 12:18 PM, Jul 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-06 18:35:18-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Following the tragic collapse of the Surfside condominium, many condo owners are revisiting their rights while potential buyers are wondering what they should be asking before closing a deal.

WPTV spoke Tuesday to a local attorney about what you need to know before deciding to buy your new home.

MORE: Surfside building collapse: How did this happen?

Daniel Lustig, attorney and partner at Pike & Lustig, LLP in West Palm Beach, laid out some of the guidelines and rules that condo owners should be aware of while living in a high-rise complex.

"You are going to be dealing with an association, you are going to be dealing with rules, you're going to be expected to pay assessments," Lustig said. "There are all these different rules that you have to agree to before you enter into a circumstance where you purchase a condo."

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He said after the collapse of the Champlain Towers South building, prospective homeowners may consider making specific conditions concerning prior inspections to the condo.

"There is going to be a lot of different things that we did not think about prior to this tragedy that are probably going to be things that condo owners or condo purchasers should think about when considering purchasing a condo," Lustig said.

He said condo owners looking to sell their unit might now have to provide more paperwork and documents not just on their property but on the entire building.

"I think it's only reasonable when you have a building that's been around for 20, 30 years that you want to know all the facts about that real estate you're buying," Lustig said.

Owners should be aware that many condos were built in Florida before current codes were put in place.

"For older buildings, there may be requirements and inspections that certain things get taken care of regardless of the cost to the condominium association," Lustig said. "Right now we don't have a specific law that requires cities, counties or the state to go back to structures built in the 1970s and do a comprehensive review to determine if it's structurally sound."

Surfside Condo on July 6, 2021
Rescue crews work in the rubble of the collapsed Champlain Towers South condominium building, Tuesday, July 6, 2021, in Surfside, Fla.

People residing in condominiums should be cognizant of the drawbacks of cohabitating in a building shared by others and the tradeoffs involved.

"The reality is if you choose to live in a building, then you're going to have to also take that gamble," Lustig said.

If you live in a building and have concerns, there are steps you can take.

"Ask for records in writing to the association, and ask whether or not there has been any recent inspections, whether or not you have any concerns with any structural problems with the building," Lustig said.

Prospective condo owners should be aware that building certifications and regulations can differ for each city and county.

"You can always go back and look at the open permits and see what has been done in the building because that is a public record," Lustig said. "You can look at the city permits and see if anything has failed, and then you can ask questions."

The attorney said one of the biggest takeaways from the Surfside tragedy is that prospective condo owners need to do their research about the stability of the structure.

"You got to look at the documents. You got to look and see whether or not there have been inspections. You have to ask for those if you're going to buy a condominium. You have to request the owner to give you that disclosure," Lustig said.

Finally, he said it's imperative that people not only look at the condition of their condo space but also consider the overall health of the building.

"At the end of the day, if someone's going to buy a unit, they got to think about the whole entire package, not just a unit," Lustig said.

Lustig recommends if you are looking to buy a condo to hire a lawyer specializing in real estate transactions.

The inspector will be able to tell you if he or she foresees any issues in the future that could leave you stuck with paying a big assessment when those repairs are needed.