by Kathy Danforth / Published December 2015
The Renaissance I Association, Inc., a 16-story condominium in the Rosemary Place Master Association in Sarasota, opened to residents in 2001. Since then, the 244-unit association has overcome physical and financial challenges with a persistent, dedicated group of leaders and residents.
The residents are a diverse group, according to Kathy Grandt, who served as Administrative Assistant at the property for five years before becoming manager more than a year ago. “We have young families; successful, middle-aged people; and, of course, those happy retirees!” she notes. The community enjoys use of a club room, pool and spa, fully-equipped fitness center, media room, and two guest suites, as well as the grounds of the master association.
Turnover from the developer occurred in 2002, and the community hired new management in 2006. Thomas Richardson, who became manager in 2008 relates, “There were water intrusion problems from the beginning—window waterproofing issues and exterior cracking were the most obvious. In 2004 when hurricanes started coming through, the problems became much worse. The association started investigating legal remedies,” Richardson reports. “Around 2007, the association hired engineers and waterproofing contractors who waterproofed the building and did a great job.”
The board proceeded with the necessary repairs while they were trying to bring suit for damages. “Unfortunately, the board had to levy a large assessment in 2008,” Richardson recalls. “They were also able to get a loan and passed an additional, smaller assessment the next year, which enabled the association to proceed with the needed work.”
The special assessments coincided with the real estate market deterioration. Property values dropped by a third. A rather scathing article by a local newspaper damaged the reputation of the building. Richardson relates, “As a result, we had a number of owners who didn’t pay their association fees or walked away, so that was a real challenge.”
Grandt explains, “There were almost 30 units that went through short sale or bank foreclosure. The association was very aggressive with collections and actually foreclosed on four or five units. We didn’t like being landlords, but the association was able to partially recoup some delinquent funds before the banks foreclosed.”
“The board was very aggressive in pursuing every legal avenue possible to recover some of the costs of fixing the problems,” according to Richardson. “We ended up in mediation for nine months and finally reached a settlement for about half the cost of the building renovation. The board had told the owners that they didn’t know how the mediation would end up, but almost half of the special assessment amounts they had paid were returned to them.” Tenacity, strong leadership, and hard work by the board and residents moved the community through the difficult times and into a very stable financial position.
“The association has a really great board with strong professional backgrounds that demonstrated strong leadership,” Grandt notes. “The strength of the board can be attributed to their expertise and their hard work for the community as a whole rather than pursuit of personal agendas. Also, the Renaissance has 13 functioning committees that have been invaluable and have helped with the research necessary to make recommendations to the board. The committee members represent a good cross section of the Renaissance owners. It’s fabulous to have a broad spectrum of people working for the community.”
“The social committee was the first one formed and continues to be very active,” Richardson recalls. “There is some sort of event week and there may be 25–60 in attendance. There are movie nights, trips to the race track, beach, lectures, and theaters, as well as moonlight cruises. The seasonal events like Christmas trim-a-tree, New Year’s brunch, Kentucky Derby, and an end-of-season party can attract as many as 50–60 people.”
“The budget and finance committee was formed in 2009 and is one of the most important,” according to Richardson. Other committees have provided leadership for specific projects and needs. “After the waterproofing and painting project, the focus turned to other aspects of the building. The landscape committee was extremely active in developing a three-phase plan,” according to Richardson. “The courtyard was beautifully upgraded, and the area from the pool to the street was totally transformed. The cable committee is now renegotiating a bulk agreement for the community, and the security committee recently worked with the facilities committee for a major upgrade to the entry system, cameras, etc. Currently, the design committee is putting in tremendous hours in a three-phase project to redecorate the common areas.”
The facilities committee has been involved in replacing various mechanical and electrical systems. “Since the Renaissance is near Sarasota Bay, some of the equipment on the roof was exposed to that salty environment and began to fail early,” Richardson relates. “The cooling tower was replaced and since a crane was necessary to make that change, it was decided to replace other equipment on the roof. Though it was expensive, the new equipment has lowered operating costs. Our 500-ton cooling tower was replaced with two 250-ton units that can work together but also enable back-up if one unit is down. The equipment installed has variable speed motors that save energy, reduce downtime, and cut annual repairs costs of $4,000–$5,000. Water treatment systems were installed for domestic and cooling water tower for health benefits and to prevent corrosion of the systems. Over a three to four year period, we spent $1.5–$2 million on deferred maintenance and replacement of major systems. The payback period for much of the equipment is approximately five to seven years. ”
Other energy-saving projects were completed and have helped to keep operating costs level even as occupancy has increased from 50 percent to 80 percent. High-efficiency LED lighting and induction lighting were installed, with a payback period of approximately 18 months for the garage lighting and three to five years for other areas. “We replaced the pool and spa heaters with high-efficiency natural gas units,” Grandt relates. “The spa heater is turned off from 10:00 p.m.–6:00 a.m., which has greatly reduced gas consumption, and the pool heater is turned off in the summer. By installing a white reflective roof coating, the roof’s warranty was extended by 12 years and energy costs were cut 15 percent. Electronic solar shades were installed on the west windows of the clubhouse, with a calculated savings of 18 percent.”
The association’s attorney revised their documents in 2012 to reflect the desires of the residents. According to Grandt, “The document committee spent a considerable number of hours reviewing the documents. It was great to have their perspective since they live here.” Two significant amendments were added: a capital contribution fee for buyers, which goes straight to reserves; and a prohibition on renting for the first year. The building has three passenger elevators and one service elevator, so rules were amended to only allow animals in the service elevator for the benefit of those with allergies or the desire to stay away from animals. This change led to a resident challenging the restriction for her emotional support dog. “She filed a HUD complaint, which the association turned over to its D&O insurance carrier. With the help of an attorney, the complaint was ultimately dismissed, but unfortunately the defense cost the association $3,000.”
Part of living in a community is taking care of one another. “We have some residents who are aging and are not as able to take care of themselves,” Grandt shares. “We want to protect each resident’s privacy, but also we need to arrange for help if someone is becoming a danger to themselves or others in the building. In one case, we reached out to a resident’s son who was able to get an emergency guardianship and help move the resident to a facility where he could be properly looked after. First, we reach out to a spouse and then other family or social services to get the ball rolling. In one instance, a resident fell asleep with the water running, which resulted in damage that cost money to both the owners and the association.”
The involvement of the residents in overcoming challenges has given most residents an appreciation for what has been accomplished and a desire to maintain their property. “A lot of people have become more aware of living conditions in a condominium—what to do, what not to do, and what to watch for,” Richardson comments. “Water is the big enemy in a condominium. If someone does not keep up maintenance with an air handling unit, for example, extensive water damage can occur. Educating residents about these dangers has been successful. The Renaissance has refurbished the common area hallways with top quality materials, including custom wool carpeting, and 99 percent of the residents respect that. They report any spill or mark on the wall right away so we can take care of it and protect their property.”
“We have worked hard to correct building deficiencies, improve the building appearance, and maintain a healthy financial position. The Renaissance has made a tremendous recovery and is an exceptional community,” Grandt states.
Richardson reports, “The Renaissance has increased its reserve budget by 200 percent over the past seven years. Reducing operating costs has been instrumental in keeping association fees stable. The Renaissance continues to have strong leadership and active committees, all of which have strengthened its reputation in the community.”