Updated: Mar 30
It’s a sight that's more familiar in South Florida co-op and condo communities than perhaps any other region nationwide: multiple unoccupied units. Depending upon the neighborhood, this may or may not be a bad thing, since some communities have more “snowbird” owners from Northern states who just live here part-time. Other communities have many more foreign owners who may not be in town often but want their investments protected and so take a keen interest in the upkeep and administration of their adopted communities.
Lee Heller, director of business development at Association Services of Florida (ASF), says a large percentage of South Florida condos are occupied seasonally. “But that percentage will differ between Broward, Miami Dade, and West Palm Beach counties,” he says. “The percentage also includes the foreign-owned units, not just seasonal.”
From a maintenance and management perspective, some of the larger issues that either seasonally or perpetually empty units represent for HOAs include unkempt lawns, algae-choked pools, weeds growing in driveways, deteriorating roofs—even squatters.
To prepare for the off-season when they will not live in their condo, South Florida unit owners should plan for the worst, industry pros say. Before leaving the unit for an extended period, South Florida homeowners should prepare it for hurricane season. That means closing shutters, removing outdoor furniture from terraces, and if possible, turning off the unit’s water. On the other hand, it's important to leave the air conditioning on; if the air is shut off for very long, humidity creeps in, and from that point, it’s not long until the mold is rampant in the place—a health hazard, and a costly problem to fix.
“Those are steps that should be taken any time you are leaving the apartment for any amount of time,” or hire a South Florida Home Watch Professional.
As a matter of course, unit owners in South Florida should be treated with deference and respect in matters of their South Florida homes. Their units are their property and their homes (even if only for a short time each year), and owners have a right to privacy. All of the community’s residents, though, have the right to see that their property—and the common areas of the community—are not devalued because of a neighbor’s apathy.
Keeping an Eye On Things
“Regular property inspections are critical in this business—at least several times a week—walking around the entire property and the common areas. External visual inspections of the interior and exterior of the building are crucial.” In addition to ensuring that seasonal owners prepare their units before flying off to their other homes, they also must do their part to protect the community by hiring a South Florida Home Watch Professional.
“It’s the standard operating procedure for our property watchers to do multiple property inspections per week—they need to walk the unit or home, looking for clean conditions and looking out for odd odors or broken windows, etc. We’ll advise unit owners of problems.” These visual inspections are important at all times of the year, even to nip in the bud infractions such as an owner leaving a beach towel hanging on the balcony when it’s against community rules.
Frequent inspections by our management of the entire South Florida property will help uncover any problems more quickly. But some of those problems with uninhabited units can be prevented, too, with the right maintenance. One of the most common maintenance problems with uninhabited units results from the failure of a very small piece of hardware—the water supply line behind a toilet. Nylon water supply lines, as opposed to steel-braided lines, will sometimes break. “We have seen it a thousand times—that water line will blow and flood the unit and another unit.”
Just because a condo owner in South Florida knows what generally should be done to prepare their unit for the off-season when they will be gone, doesn’t mean that professional help won’t go a long way. Some industry professionals recommend that if a unit owner is going to be away for a while, they should hire a home watch company in South Florida to oversee any maintenance needs of the unit before departing. Such South Florida home watch companies provide interior maintenance contracts for all plumbing and mechanical aspects of the apartment, and they’ll inspect the unit before the owner’s departure and advise on its maintenance needs.
Home Watch companies in South Florida also will replace air filters, which might seem like a simple task until you forget to do it. Condensate lines in an air conditioner can back up and flood the unit, all because of a lack of A/C maintenance. But what condo owner, save one who was raised installing heating and A/C systems with family, would think of all these things before escaping the sometimes oppressive heat of a South
Florida summer? That’s why professionals can be helpful.
For some residents with the right technology, knowing what’s happening in their empty beach condo in South Florida is just a smartphone app away. State-of-the-art smart home technology enables unit owners to monitor the conditions of their unit in South Florida, even if they are thousands of miles away. With such technology, the apartment’s A/C can be adjusted, water leaks can be detected, motion sensors can notify the homeowner of possible intruders, shades can be lowered and lifted and lights switched on and off—all checked remotely, by phone or computer.
But nothing really beats a good set of vigilant eyes, watching out for all of the neighbors. Smith recounts an incident regarding the importance of neighbors being on the watch for problems: An ice maker in the fridge of an empty condo unit in one community had been dripping for months before it was discovered. It caused mold in seven units, which cost $120,000 to clean up.
“The owner of the unit did not ask anyone to check it while he was away. To top it off, he had no insurance. The condo insurance only covers the drywall and not the mold remediation,” Smith says. “This situation ended up in litigation.”
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