By Erol Ugljanin & Annette Bencon / Published September 2022
Residential property insurance has been spiraling in cost and shrinking in availability for the last several years. Florida’s property insurance market has always been volatile, thanks first to hurricanes and now rising sea levels on the natural front; add in aging properties that aren’t always maintained properly, and it’s no surprise that insurers have fled the state over the last couple of years.
While the State of Florida is taking action on traditional residential homeowner’s insurance, the commercial condominium insurance market is not part of the new discussions, which were begun at the legislature in May. With fewer insurers—only two admitted carriers among them—condominium associations are struggling to find coverage.
The problem has gotten worse since the collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside in June 2021.
Florida is home to more than 1.5 million condominium units, and according to University of Miami researcher Bill Sklar, quoted in the Miami Herald at https://www.miamiherald.com/news/special-reports/surfside-investigation/article260698292.html, more than 922,000 of them are over 30 years of age, and 60 percent are in areas that don’t require inspections like the 30-year recertification program in Miami-Dade and 40-year recertification program in Broward County.
Associations are required by Florida law to carry property insurance that covers damage from things like wind, fire, and storms. Most also carry liability coverage, directors’ and officers’ coverage, and, depending on the location, flood insurance. It adds up, and in the current market, associations are looking at premium hikes of more than 50 percent.
With the lack of admitted (state-approved) carriers, the door has opened to “surplus lines”: out-of-state companies that offer less coverage for more money. Some associations are forced to layer multiple policies from those surplus line carriers to get the coverage they need. They may need five carriers to reach their needed $60 million coverage, for example. This makes both buying and filing claims more difficult for the board, adding more work and stress to an already complicated process.
Companies that are issuing policies are asking for more than higher premiums. They’re looking more closely at the age and condition of a property before agreeing to issue coverage. Depending on the carrier, boards may be asked to provide maintenance plans, inspection reports, financial records, engineering reports, and even board meeting minutes. “Five years ago, no carrier asked for an engineering report,” explains Doug Weinstein, Vice President of Operations at AKAM Property Management Services in Florida. “Since the Surfside tragedy, they all want a lot more information to protect their own policies. Most associations are having trouble renewing their coverage right now.”
One such association is a 400-unit property in Hallandale Beach, governed by three entities. The community is only 14 years old and has been managed by AKAM for about five years. They had been trying to get new insurance quotes for months and were unable to get coverage, Weinstein says. Traditionally, many boards would simply try to complete this process on their own—self-management was the standard for a long time.
When this association heard back from a carrier with a quote, they were looking at an increase of 200–250 percent on their property coverage and 200 percent on their flood insurance coverage. At $900,000 for property coverage and $65,000 for flood, the association was looking at an additional cost of about $2,400 per unit for this year alone.
The AKAM team, led by Weinstein and association manager Isabella Ghio, immediately connected with their network of qualified insurance professionals. In just 24 hours—with the renewal deadline looming—they were able to secure a quote froman admitted carrier for less than $550,000 for property insurance and $22,000 for flood coverage. That’s a combined savings of $393,000.
While still a substantial increase in premium costs, it’s a much easier cost for the association to bear. Weinstein notes that, just as important as the savings is, the coverage is also through an admitted carrier, which is almost impossible to get at this time. “If we hadn’t been able to help them get this critical coverage at a better price, they’d be facing a huge assessment increase to pay for it,” he says.
Weinstein recommends that associations trying to get insurance coverage renewed in this tumultuous market do their homework. “Have all your information ready to go, including financial statements, engineering reports, and any other paperwork the carrier will or even might ask for,” he says. “We were only able to get coverage for this property so quickly because we had everything organized ahead of time.”
He also emphasizes that associations need to be on top of their maintenance and updates. “The property we were working with was already taking on a large-scale restoration project on the exterior. They didn’t do it to get better insurance rates, but it helped the insurer to see that they were dedicated to upkeep, which may reduce claims and exposure risk for the carrier.”
Most importantly, Weinstein says, the board could not have gotten that price and coverage without the assistance of a professional property management team, with market access that no board member has. “The best-intentioned, dedicated volunteer simply doesn’t have the access, networks, and reputation that a great management agent does,” he says. “It literally pays to have a professional on your side when buying insurance.”
Insurance coverage is likely to continue to be difficult to obtain, and prices will rise. Regular maintenance and upkeep, meticulous records and reports, and the assistance of a professional management team can save Florida associations thousands of dollars, not to mention time and frustration.
Vice President of Management, AKAM
Erol Ugljanin is a Vice President of Management with AKAM, a leading residential property management company serving Florida and the New York area for nearly four decades. He can be reached at EUgljanin@akam.com.
Director of Transitions and Client Success, AKAM
Annette Bencon is Director of Transitions and Client Success with AKAM. She can be reached at ABencon@akam.com.