This year, hurricanes, with record rain, storm surges and winds, have resulted in severe damage to both commercial and residential buildings, mold contamination, and significant interruption to businesses in the impacted areas. Several Caribbean islands have been wiped away, Key West is unrecognizable, and Houston may have lost more than 150,000 homes. For most of us, luckily, the damage was less severe. My wife and I have leaks in our roof and elsewhere and lost a window (but gained an indoor tree). We lost power for about four and a half days. Friends in South Miami are still without power as of the writing of this post.

The legal implications of the hurricane aftermath extend well beyond mere rebuilding. Mold contamination and water intrusion must be addressed and properly remediated. Design and construction defects may be alleged to have exacerbated the extent of the damage from the hurricane. Employers may face workers’ compensation claims from employees and also may have vacation and lost wages concerns. Insurance coverage may be at issue. Construction costs may have escalated causing losses to builders or developers. Building permits and development approvals may expire due to delays caused by the hurricane. Condominium associations may not have sufficient reserves to act on emergency repairs. Construction licensing regulations may affect the ability to commence repairs and provide penalties for failure to engage properly certified contractors.

So what to do?

  • Make sure you and your family, employees and customers will be safe in your home or building.
    • Are there electrical system damage and risks?
    • Is the water safe to drink?
    • Is there a risk to the structural integrity of improvements?
    • Other Physical Hazards (don’t panic, but snakes and scorpions like piles of debris).
    • Contamination? Such as leaking petroleum tanks, chemical spills and the like.
  • Address potential health risks, whether mold or risky property conditions.
  • Secure your property and protect it from potential or further loss of property value.
  • Deal with Insurance.
  • Deal with Government Agencies such as FEMA
  • Deal with FP&L’s reimbursement programs.
  • Check with your mortgage lender. The lender may have the right to collect insurance proceeds and disburse the funds as repair and rebuilding proceed.
  • Only then commence to restore your property. Use only licensed and insured contractors. Where required by law, obtain all necessary permits and approvals. If you are part of a condominium or property owners’ association, make sure all Board approvals are obtained.
  • Get on with your life

Our lawyers have assisted clients in resolving insurance disputes, negotiating agreements in connection with assessment and remediation services, resolving design and construction defect claims,  implementing programs for addressing employee benefits, preparing hurricane and disaster response plans, and in finding their way through myriad environmental regulations.   In one recent example,  we resolved an insurer’s denial of coverage for water damage based on a theory that the building envelope was defectively designed or constructed and that the damage was not caused by a windstorm (as provided in the policy). By engaging the proper experts, a successful argument was made that the building envelope was properly designed and constructed and that it was indeed the hurricane-force winds that caused the water intrusion.

In another example, we assisted a client in requesting an extension of the expiration date for various development approvals that could not be met due to the direct delays of the hurricane, the difficulty in obtaining materials and the need to redesign to address increases in construction costs.

In addition to helping guide our clients in making proper recovery efforts, we are also focusing our clients’ attention on preventative measures to avoid future repeat damage and liability. We have found that many building and business owners have been hesitant to expend significant sums in prevention, in part to the belief that the recent hurricane landfalls in Florida were merely a fluke.  Whether global warming or a regular climatological cycle, it appears that the Atlantic hurricane season has been on an upswing that may continue for a decade or more. Proper preparation can lessen the business impacts and speed up recovery efforts.

 

Floridians like to think of themselves as hurricane experts. We know what to do when a storm is coming, and we are ready.  We prepare at the beginning of the hurricane season.  We stock up on our supplies of batteries, bottled water, canned foods and other non-perishables.  When a hurricane is coming, we are always ready.  Last year, Hurricane Matthew gave us a good test run of our hurricane preparedness as we had not had a hurricane in 10 years.  We passed with flying colors.

In 2017, we commemorated the 25th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew in late August, so our awareness has been at a peak high. Then, just 2 weeks ago, we watched as Hurricane Harvey devastated Southeast Texas and the Houston area as we kept our eyes on the scary developments in the eastern Atlantic.  What happened over the last 10 days has not ever happened here in South Florida.  People really took the news of an approaching major hurricane seriously and much further in advance than ever before.  Beginning one week before Irma would strike Florida, people began preparations in earnest.  We had already begun to feel the residual effects of Harvey at the gas pump as gas prices had risen about 50 cents per gallon.  Gas was rumored to be in short supply and by Sunday before the storm, gas lines began to form all over Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.  The lines grew longer each day and by Wednesday, stations began running out of gas and couldn’t get new supplies fast enough.  This lasted until Saturday when everything had to close as Irma approached.

Our family watched closely and made some new and different plans. Last year, my parents and mother-in-law stayed in their own homes.  But things have changed this year and this storm was potentially a category 5 and was headed right at us.  My mother-in-law, age 96, had recently fallen and dislocated her shoulder and earlier this year, her 25 year companion passed away.  We decided that she could not stay alone.  She would stay with us.  Likewise, my parents would come to us as my father is planning on back surgery in a month.  We would have a full house and needed to secure all three houses prior to the storm.  Therefore, our preparations began earlier than usual.  On Wednesday afternoon, both my office and my wife’s office announced they would be closed beginning Thursday.  I was therefore up early Thursday morning to begin work.

Starting with our house, the biggest of the 3, the plan began as it did last year, closing the most difficult shutters. Then, moving all outdoor furniture inside the house.  I moved on to my mother-in-law’s and began to help her pack things up, close her patio shutters and sort through her hurricane supplies which would be moved to our house.  The process continued through the day and Friday as I finished with my parents’ house, continued with our house and moved my mother-in-law into our home.  My parents would not move in until Saturday morning, but we all had dinner together Friday night.  The final shutters were closed early Saturday morning.  I made it a point to watch football all day Saturday so we wouldn’t go crazy watching hurricane coverage non-stop.  The first hurricane feeder bands began to move in mid-day and the weather began to affect my Directv satellite.  Fortunately, AppleTV came through and my football viewing was not affected (ESPN App worked great!).

The storm intensified Saturday night and Sunday morning. Though the eye slammed into the Keys and progressed north up the west coast, we were getting hit pretty hard.  There were 6 cell phones in our house that were blaring weather emergency alerts, primarily telling us of tornado warnings in our area all night.  When we did turn on the news, we saw that many tornadoes did in fact touch down in our immediate area (perhaps even near our neighborhood).

We were fortunate in that the power at the house stayed on all night. My wife woke up early and made pancakes for us.  Then, at 11:40, we finally lost power.  No NFL opening day!  And the boredom set in.  I read, listened to music and napped.  We played dominoes.  Let’s not forget the wine and whiskey!  There was plenty of that.  During a lull in the storm, my wife and I snuck outside for 5 minutes to see what was happening.  We were able to compare notes with a neighbor and snap a few pictures.  The storm continued through the night.

But Monday morning it was quiet. And sunny.  It was over.  Better yet, at 8:15, the power turned on!  How lucky were we!  I got up, got dressed, went outside, opened the down stairs shutters and surveyed the damage.  Tree branches were down all over our yard and up and down the block.  The neighbors started coming out to do the same and we all helped each other clear the street and our yards and get back to normal.

We started calling and texting friends to check in. Most people around town did not have power and, except for our small town, Cooper City, all of Broward County was under a boil water order.

There was no damage at either my parents’ or mother-in-law’s, but they did not get power back right away, 3 days and 4 days respectively, so we had company for a few more days.

We were all extremely lucky. Of course, those in the Keys and on the west coast took a much harder hit and will be rebuilding and recovering for a long time.  But, everyone, and I mean everyone, took Irma very seriously.  When family and friends from out of town called before and during the storm to check up on us (which was greatly appreciated) many asked why we didn’t evacuate.  First of all, we don’t live in an evacuation zone.  So, there is no reason to.  But also, I always say, where would we evacuate to?  This hurricane, in particular, was targeting the entire state.  Flights north were sold out.  There was no place to go.  Those who drove elsewhere in the state were hit anyway.  If you were on the road, you were in traffic.  The best answer was that we were prepared as best we could possibly have been.  And, now that it is over, we learned more and will be even better prepared the next time.  And there will be a next time.

    Get Blog Updates

    Get news, insights, and commentary delivered straight to your inbox!
    Click Here

    About Us

    Welcome to Assouline & Berlowe’s Florida Real Estate Law and Investment Blog with news, insights, and commentary for investors, developers, and their advisors.

    Topics

    Recent Updates

    Archives

    Stay ConnectedLinkedIn

    STAY TUNED!
    Get Blog Updates
    We'll send you an email whenever we add a new post.
    Stay Updated
    Give it a try, you can unsubscribe anytime.
    close-link
    Get news, insights, and commentary delivered straight to your inbox!
    Click Here
    close-link