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Five Mistakes Your Board of Directors Can Avoid if Hurricane Irma Hits

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In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey’s destruction and with Irma fast approaching the eastern US coastline, I could blog about the steps your community needs to take to prepare. I’ve written that blog post many times before and I often wonder how many board members, managers and community association residents have followed that advice.  At this point, most of you already know that you should be date-stamping video of your property to memorialize pre-and post-storm condition. and should arrange to have money on hand (either in the form of fully funded reserves or a line of credit) to use for storm repairs.  Some of you also have pre-negotiated debris removal pricing from your landscapers, have adopted and tested emergency plans and have recently reviewed your insurance policy with both your insurance agent and your association attorney to confirm and clarify your understanding of your coverage limits and deductible responsibilities.  To those highly prepared communities I say “Bravo“; your residents are lucky to have planners at the helm of their association as experience has taught that prepared communities will fare better in even a direct strike from a Category 3 or higher storm than unprepared communities will in less fearsome storms.
The surest way to make mistakes after a storm is to have failed to make adequate preparations before the storm.  However, when a storm is bearing down on a community which might not have taken all the recommended advance steps, all hope is not lost. Boards need to focus on taking the right post-storm steps as follows:
  1. Separate the urgent from the important.  Your board can and should undertake the urgent steps needed to secure your building from further water intrusion, to clear debris and to dry out units. Important items such as selecting a contractor and other professionals to help repair your long-term storm damage require the same amount of due diligence as a regular renovation or repair project would.  There is no reason for your board to abandon sensible steps such as compiling bids, vetting contractors, having your attorney review contracts before signing and hiring the right professionals to oversee the construction project simply because the repairs are needed due to storm damage. The first mistake your board must avoid is signing full repair contracts and assigning your insurance benefits to contractors under pressure and in the absence of taking the steps you would ordinarily and prudently take when hiring contractors to perform work in your community.
  2. Do not rely solely on the insurance company’s adjuster to evaluate your claim. The insurance company’s adjuster is not there to protect you and your association’s claim. Your board needs to consult with your association counsel who will assist you in retaining your own adjuster and/or engineer or architect to fully evaluate and compile your claim.  All of the foregoing professionals can help ensure that your insurance company maximizes rather than minimizes your anticipated recovery.
  3. Don’t allow the circumstances to control you. The most sought after, high quality contractors and consultants will be in short supply in the aftermath of a disaster.  It is always preferable to hold out for the quality of contractor you would hire for a non-emergency project than to settle for an unlicensed or out of state contractor.
  4. Don’t forget that communication with your members is vital. Hopefully you have up to date emergency contact information for most of your members. Websites, emails, texts, phone calls and regular mail are all important channels to keep your members and residents informed about the building’s condition. Those communications will help inform your residents when they can safely return to their homes, when to expect repair work to commence, etc.  It should come as no surprise that the boards who are the poorest communicators in the aftermath of a disaster don’t tend to fare well at the next annual election. Even more importantly, proof of consistent and informative communications can defuse a potential negligence claim levied against your board.
  5. Lastly, one of the biggest mistakes some boards make is not learning from their mistakes. There will always be another hurricane. Whatever problems or deficiencies you discovered dealing with this year’s hurricane should result in an evolution of your hurricane plan for the following year.  Did you find yourself in a bind due to a lack of funds on hand to deal with either the urgent or the important matters which needed attention? Next time you will be certain to have reserves you can use or a line of credit in place prior to storm season. Did you find that you could not get your landscaper out to remove debris promptly and when he did show up the cost was astronomical? Next time, you will pre-negotiate these services and the price before the start of hurricane season on June 1st.  Did your residents express confusion, frustration or anger for months after the storm?  Next time, you will establish and utilize more communication channels and have better contact information to keep your residents informed and involved in the reconstruction process.
According to the former heavyweight champion and sage, Mike Tyson, “Everybody’s got a plan until they get hit”.  If the worst happens this year and your community does get hit, be sure to minimize your pain by avoiding the foregoing mistakes. As for having a plan, check out our hurricane plan here.

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