Firm alerts county to 'significant' issues at condo complex

KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) — Engineers from a private firm alerted county officials in central Florida this week to significant structural problems that were discovered at a condominium complex two months ago but never addressed by the homeowners association.

The warning came days after another condominium, the 12-story Champlain Towers South, partially collapsed in Surfside, Florida, killing at least 18 and leaving 145 people still missing. The collapse there happened as repairs were beginning after inspections uncovered “significant" damage at the 40-year-old building.

In central Florida, the Orlando-based firm Farmer Architecture told Osceola County officials they had warned the homeowners association at the Images Condominiums in Kissimmee that three buildings at the complex were “unsafe and in danger of collapse” on April 30, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Farmer and another company, Born Engineers, made the recommendations but never heard back from the association, according to emails released Thursday.

The emails sent to Miguel Ubiles of FirstService Residential, the HOA for Images Condominiums, described “significantly rotted wood framing” and additional rot in wooden columns, the report said. The firm recommended “closing these areas to traffic until further investigation can occur to determine the full extent of the rotted wood problem.”

On Tuesday, Todd Born, president and owner of Born Engineering, contacted county officials, saying property managers had never signed off on a proposal to make the repairs.

“We have not heard back from the Owner and are concerned that nothing is being done,” said Born’s email to William Grimes, Osceola’s chief building inspector. “In my opinion, what we encountered in our very limited review of the condition is a very serious condition. The walkways are in danger of collapse and could represent a threat to the safety of the public.”

Ubiles did not respond to the newspaper's request for comment.

On Wednesday, the county declared 72 units at the complex unsafe. The newspaper reported that some residents opted for 14-day stays at nearby hotels paid for by the county while repairs are made. Others appeared to have stayed in their homes, in spite of the warning, the Sentinel reported.

It was unclear how long it would take to make the repairs.

“Everybody here, we work in the tourism industry and we’ve been hit by COVID hard, and to come home to this is really sad,” Jennifer Dodd, a resident affected by the closures, told the newspaper.

Osceola County spokesperson Chris Brumbaugh said the county received permission from the HOA to inspect the other eight buildings on the property.

“Repairing the existing structural issues is the responsibility of the condo association/management company,” Brumbaugh said.

Michael Allen, who is planning to move to the area from Michigan was scheduled to tour the complex before being told what was going on.

“I’m leaving. I don’t even want to go look,” Allen told the newspaper. He said it reminded him of the building collapse at the Champlain Towers South in Surfside.