Chesser: Some Are Swimming NAKED!

In Brief:

  • Townhouse owners often face unique insurance challenges due to the responsibility for maintenance and insurance being on individual owners rather than an association.
  • Rising insurance costs have led to many townhome units being uninsured, posing significant problems in the event of a loss, as all units must be rebuilt together.
  • Townhouse boards need to ensure proper insurance coverage through common area expenses or by mandating individual policies to prevent devastating delays in rebuilding after a loss.

This advertorial content is provided by Chesser and Barr, Attorneys. 

From the title of this article, some will believe that this is a really sexy discussion.

It isn’t.

Instead, it is intended to sound an alarm to townhouse owners about insurance.

A townhouse is different from a condominium by the fact that if townhouses have common areas at all, they are often outside the structure, normally recreation areas and access roads.

Many townhouses do not have common roofs, windows or exterior surfaces.

By contrast, in a condominium, an association usually owns some or all of the structure’s parts.

Townhouses are often designed to be marketed with little or no monthly assessments.

Many have little or no common area costs. The only way to do that is to leave roofing, windows and exterior surfaces to be paid by each unit owner, not by an association. Therefore, townhouse owners often

do their own unit maintenance. To some owners, maintenance is important, and to others it is not done at all.

In a townhouse, even if maintenance of some items is accomplished in common, insurance is usually provided by each unit owner.

By and large, insurance has doubled in the last 12 months. Every insurance I have personally has doubled. The insurance industry will tell you that lawyers are primarily responsible for that.

I believe politics, and the fact that elections are funded by business groups, including insurance underwriters, have resulted in almost no insurance rate regulation being left.

I suspect that both sides are correct. I would love for the legislature to devise an alternative system for owners to collect insurance proceeds than by lawsuits.

I also suspect that every large business group has found its way into politics, and today, more than ever before, those with money control the system.

But this article is specifically about townhome insurance. Unless a developer thought enough about his buyers to require each owner to provide insurance, or in the declaration gave the association

the power to assess the owners to provide insurance, many units in today’s market are uninsured.

To legitimize this article’s title, no one is swimming naked until the tide goes out. The same is true for insurance. No one is underinsured until there is a loss. Some owners believe the risk they run will expose only themselves. The alarm I intend by this article is to make sure townhouse owners know that you are different. You will either swim together or drown together.

Townhome units are built within buildings of three or more units (or they would be a single-family subdivision).

There is absolutely no way to rebuild some units in a building without rebuilding them all.

We have had experience locally with just that problem. No unit can be rebuilt until all units are rebuilt together. It is heartbreaking to have people with the resources to get back in their homes who can’t do that because one owner had no insurance.

At the beginning of this hurricane season, the message to townhome boards is to be aware of how insurance is handled in your declaration.

Either purchase insurance as a common area expense or require each owner to either get insurance or prove the resources to rebuild if necessary.

Proceeds should be paid to an insurance trustee if that’s possible. If this power is not in your documents, see your lawyer and get your documents amended now, not later.

Condominiums have their own problems, and hopefully one day we can address some of those. In the meantime, in the insurance market, the legislature needs to create a workable alternative to obtain insurance benefits rather than requiring litigation. For instance, a special master or

arbitration alternative could be quicker and less expensive. If our elected overseers care about townhome owners, they also ought to require provisions in declarations that deal with insurance.

In the meantime, if you own a townhome, understand that a mass loss will challenge every legal and personal relationship neighbors have. A significantly uninsured loss may be impossible to deal with

constructively.

About Mike Chesser of Chesser and Barr

D. Michael Chesser is a highly respected attorney known for his dedication to providing quality legal services to both businesses and residents of Okaloosa County.

Chesser has become a prominent legal community figure specializing in real estate law and city, county, and local government law. He graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor’s and a Law Degree and served in the United States Army.

Since 1974, Mike Chesser has proudly served as the attorney to the Town of Shalimar and Eglin Federal Credit Union.

Throughout his career, Mr. Chesser has worked extensively with various local governments as a consultant and lawyer, particularly in land use and housing matters. He has earned a reputation as a knowledgeable and experienced attorney, handling over 50 appeals and numerous jury and non-jury trials. His expertise extends beyond the courtroom, as he frequently educates realtors, lawyers, and the general public on real estate and business matters.

A portrait of northwest Florida attorney Mike Chesser
Mike Chesser is a partner in the law firm of Chesser and Barr and an owner of Old South Land Title, Inc.

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