If you’ve lived in condo buildings near the coast for twenty years as I have, you know that every so often the buildings have to be inspected as part of routine maintenance. When inspectors find areas of stucco, concrete and rebar that have deteriorated due to intrusion from salty ocean moisture and rain, crews have to remove the trouble areas or, in some instances, reseal entire buildings. This type of pro-active maintenance is the sign of a well-managed building.
After the tragic collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida, last summer, that resulted in the deaths of 98 people, some structural engineers wondered if sea level rise had caused ocean water to bathe underground support structures and garage walls, contributing to the building’s collapse. No ruling has been made to date, but the building’s collapse has caused some coastal cities and towns to either implement stricter building inspection protocols or to wait and see if the state is going to pass tougher inspection rules.
Regardless of their state’s inspection rules — which vary widely — owners and buyers of coastal real estate need to take the initiative and consider the risk rising seas pose to coastal real estate. Owners can no longer passively rely on their condo boards to do what’s right for their buildings. They need to get involved and make sure that they’re up to date on inspections, their buildings are being well-maintained, repairs are made promptly when problems are found above and below ground, and reserves are being built for the day when repairs are needed.
Buyers, too, need to make sure that their pre-purchase inspections include not only an analysis of their unit, but a detailed look at the current condition of the buildings and common areas — including beaches, seawalls, steps and garages. They also need to know how well the buildings have been maintained, the commitment of the condo boards to conduct routine maintenance and build reserves to cover them, and whether or not there are repair projects that need to be implemented in the near future — especially since they can lead to hefty special assessments.
In addition to gathering this information, owners and buyers should have a sense of how ever-rising seas are expected to impact their buildings and neighborhoods during the period they hope to live in the property. Sea level rise flooding can make roads unusable and interrupt essential services. It can also lead to increased carrying costs, including condo fees, special assessments, taxes, and insurance.
Sea level rise poses risks above ground and below ground in vulnerable coastal communities. Everyone involved in coastal real estate needs to acknowledge that it’s a growing problem and do what they can to protect their lives, properties and financial futures.