H.O. from Florida writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
I own a condo in Florida and all the units on the 2nd and 3rd floors have spiral staircases made of wood that lead from the back patios to the pool area and bike parking. The stairs are becoming very old, unstable, loose, and downright scary. I have complained to the HOA several times but keep hearing they are fine and that there isn’t enough money in the budget to repair/replace them, yet the boat dock – which was in much less disrepair- was repaired last winter. I am at the point where I want to report the spiral staircases to the state. Am I allowed to do that and if so, who do I contact to actually get someone to inspect the staircase and tell the HOA with authority that the stairs must be fixed and an assessment may need to be made on all the owners to bring the stairs into compliance and safety. I don’t want anyone to be hurt on the stairs, and I fear it will happen if I don’t push this issue.
Mister Condo replies:
H.O., I am sorry for your unfortunate situation of having to deal with decrepit stairs that are potentially unsafe. I am not an expert in Florida condominium law so please accept this advice as friendly. If you need a legal opinion, kindly seek out local and qualified legal help. The State of Florida does have a Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) that might be able to assist you and will allow certain complaints to be filed against your condominium association. However, they limit their investigations and the amount of manpower available can make that a very slow and ineffective process. You have already begun a dialogue with the Board of the HOA, which is a proper first step. Their response is a bit concerning because “there isn’t enough money in the budget” is hardly going to suffice if the staircase fails and there are injuries. A lawsuit caused by negligent maintenance of the stairs will drain the budget in ways they never thought possible! A better approach would be for the Board to have the staircase inspected by a property engineer who could give a professional opinion on the soundness of the staircase and even suggest what can be done to strengthen the integrity and prolong their useful life. If the staircase is already too far gone, the repairs should be made even if that means a special assessment is necessary to cover the cost. The bigger question here is why there isn’t enough money to maintain the staircase in the first place. Are common fees too low? Is there a Reserve Study and Reserve Funding plan in place? These are the questions that need answers so that you and other unit owners know the Board is providing good fiscal guidance in properly preparing the association for other expenses that lie ahead. You can’t defer maintenance too long or you can end up with failing common elements that can lead to real tragedy. Your failing staircase may just be the tip of the iceberg. Good luck!