Best Practices for Community Associations After a Hurricane: Action Steps After Hurricane Damage Affects Your Community
How prepared is your community association to effectively deal with damage from the next hurricane that will inevitably hit the area? Lack of preparedness can result in unnecessary damage, recovery delays, and additional expenses. There are likely new board members at your community association that were not in that position when the last hurricane hit. Your association may not have an effective post-hurricane action plan in place to assist in the next recovery effort. This blog post will provide some best practices and list of items to address so that your association is prepared for the aftermath of the next hurricane that hits your area.
Use caution when returning to the association property: Seek updates and advice from local authorities before returning to the association property. Ensure it is deemed safe to return. The association should inform its residents as soon as possible when reentry into the community is safe. Be aware that after a hurricane there is typically undiscovered damage that can pose danger when returning. Oftentimes, disaster-related injuries occur after the storm has already passed.
Debris at entryways should be cleared: Prior to inspecting the association property and removing debris from around the units / parcels, the entryways for ingress and egress to the association property should be cleared. Residents, first responders, and needed vendors must be able to enter the community.
The association property should be inspected and photographed: For insurance claim purposes, the association property should be inspected as best as possible with pictures and videos taken of the damage. Pictures and videos should be date and time stamped. They should be provided to the Association’s insurance carriers as evidence to support the damage and claims.
Repair and restoration needs should be identified: While inspecting the association property and taking pictures and videos, make a written list of all repairs that require immediate attention. Be sure to identify the exact location of each area of damage. Be aware of damage to any utility lines, such as gas, water and electric. If there are any leaks, turn off the utilities at the main valve. Turn off circuit breakers if there are downed and exposed lines or sparks from electrical sources. If sewer lines are damaged, do not allow the use of toilets until repaired. Begin checking for mold development.
Make contact with needed vendors: Make contact with necessary resources as soon as possible to schedule debris removal, repairs, and other restoration work. Due to the high demand for these resources after a hurricane, these resources may be limited or backlogged; therefore, these calls should be a priority. The longer it takes to contact them, the longer you will be waiting for their needed help. Be aware of scammers and unscrupulous individuals during this time who try to take advantage of victims during an emergency. Unlicensed and unqualified contractors often appear after emergency situations, looking to take advantage of desperate targets. Try to verify and evaluate any unknown contractors / vendors with the resources you have available at the time. If possible, review business websites, state licensing websites and other resources to verify any unknown contractors and vendors prior to entering a contract.
Contact local government resources as needed: Obtain updates on the status of the surrounding areas and available government assistance. Schedule resources to get your community repaired as quickly as possible.
Contact residents as soon as possible: Regularly update your association website as information is learned. Post signs and messages at the community entrance. Email communications to the residents if possible.
One board member should be assigned for all communications to needed professionals: One point of contact on the board should be designated for all communications to contractors, insurance carriers, financial institutions, government officials, and attorneys. Confusion and delays can occur when needed services and professionals are contacted by multiple board members who each provide different information during this chaotic period. Miscommunication can result in delays and incorrect information, which can be avoided by having just one point-person on the board for all communications.
A different board member should be assigned for all resident communications: A different single point of contact on the board should be designated for all communications to residents. If possible, this designed board member for resident communications should be different than the designated board member for communications with needed professionals. The number of resident inquiries during this time can be overwhelming. If the same board member were the point-person for both groups, it may be too much to provide timely and effective communications to each group. The two board members designated for professional and resident communications will need to regularly communicate with one another to ensure correct information is communicated to each group.
Maintain all records from repairs: All paperwork for repair and restoration work after a hurricane, including bids, contracts, email exchanges, invoices, receipts, etc. must be kept and maintained. These documents are part of the association’s official records, and they will be needed for insurance claims.
File insurance claims: Do not forget to timely file insurance claims. The longer it takes your association to make the claims, the longer it will be waiting for the adjuster and any insurance proceeds. Claims may also need to be filed with multiple insurance carriers depending upon the damage sustained by your association and the different policies your association may have in place. To illustrate, wind damage and flood damage might involve two separate policies and carriers and require two separate claims.
Contact your financial institution: There may not be enough funds in the operating account, or applicable reserve accounts, to cover the insurance deductible or immediate expenses; therefore, you may need to contact the association’s financial institution to access a line of credit or obtain a loan.
Have emergency meetings as needed as a way to communicate with the residents: Even if there is just one board member available, the association should have meetings so that residents can share information, express concerns, and ask questions. Residents should inspect their units for damage and report any damage immediately. Residents should be informed of the current condition of the association property and actions taken by the board. The association must inform residents of any areas of the association property where entry is prohibited due to extensive damage.
Be aware of the statutory emergency powers for condos and HOAs: Review the emergency powers in the Florida Condominium Act and HOA Act that boards have during declared states of emergency. If the association is within a declared state of emergency due to the hurricane, then the board’s statutory emergency powers are available. For condo associations the board’s emergency powers are contained in Section 718.1265, Florida Statutes. For HOAs the board’s emergency powers are contained in Section 316, Florida Statutes. These powers include, but are not limited to, entering into agreements with counties, municipalities, and vendors/contractors for removal of debris and to prevent further damage to association property; levying special assessments without a vote of the owners; borrowing money to fund emergency repairs without a vote of the owners; and holding meetings with limited notice provided as practicable.