Cash Found in Condo Collapse to Be Distributed; Trial Could Start in Summer

December 3, 2021

A Florida judge said that lawsuits over the collapsed condominium tower in Surfside will likely go to trial by summer. But thousands of dollars in cash found in the rubble could be distributed to former residents within weeks.

And the cause of the collapse could take two years to determine, a building official said at an insurance conference Thursday.

A court-appointed receiver said this week that about $750,000 discovered in the debris will be sent to the U.S. Treasury, where it will be cleaned up and counted. Then a check will be sent to the receiver so the money can be distributed.

More than likely, the receiver and the judge will create a system to let the surviving Champlain Tower South residents who believe they lost cash to file a claim, said local news reports. Some of the money was found in purses and wallets and can be assigned to former condo residents.

The receiver, Michael Goldberg, told the judge overseeing the matter that he also is working with county officials to develop a plan for condominium residents to claim personal belongings.

Also on Wednesday, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman said at a hearing that he will move expeditiously toward a summer trial date in the lawsuits. When the tower collapsed in June, more than 98 people died, and dozens of family members and condo owners have filed suits. A mediator is also working to find a way to allocate damages, money from the sale of the condo site, and insurance proceeds between families who lost loved ones and condo owners who lost property.

At the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s annual insurance summit Thursday, the chair of the Florida Building Commission said it could take as long as two years for engineering experts to determine the causes of the collapse.

The south Florida attorney who chaired a Florida Bar task force that has recommended sweeping statutory changes to help prevent future collapses, said at the summit that part of the problem is that Florida requires no maintenance standards for condominiums.

“This hotel we’re in now and the office building you work in, they all have maintenance standards. Condominiums don’t,” said Bill Sklar, a condominium law attorney who represents developers and lenders. “They have a duty to maintain, but no standards.”

William Sklar (University of Miami School of Law)

Meanwhile, almost every condominium in Florida is underinsured by at least 20%, thanks to increased replacement value due to rising cost of furnishings and construction materials, said Adam Lopatin, senior vice president of commercial lines for USI Insurance Services.

Lopatin, who also spoke Thursday at the Chamber summit, said the Champlain Towers collapse has prompted many carriers to pull back from writing condo coverage. “The market is terrible now,” he said.

The squeeze will likely cause many condo associations and owners to turn to Citizens Property Insurance, the state-backed insurer of last resort. But while a belief exists that Citizens will accept most properties, Citizens is now increasing inspections and enforcing eligibility requirements for properties, which could make it difficult for some substandard condos to find coverage, officials on the panel said.

The speakers on the panel said they expect the Florida Legislature, which convenes in five weeks, to pass new condo laws that will require more inspections, new maintenance standards and a prohibition against allowing condo associations to defer needed maintenance.

Topics Condominium

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