Dealing With Vacant Units How to Cope When Nobody's Home

It’s a sight that's more familiar in Florida co-op and condo communities than perhaps any other region nationwide: multiple unoccupied units. Depending upon the neighborhood, this may or may not be a bad thing, since some communities have more “snowbird” owners from Northern states who just live here part-time. Other communities have many more foreign owners who may not be in town often, but nonetheless want their investments protected and so take a keen interest in the upkeep and administration of their adopted communities.

The flip-side of this is that in other places in the Sunshine State, the recession left some residential buildings and developments—many of them brand-new construction—unfinished and/or mostly empty. The foreclosure crisis also forced many Florida condo owners out of their condos, leaving those units on the market without any takers for months or years. And regardless of the economy, the seasonal ebb and flow of condo residents into and out of communities, particularly in many areas of Florida, means many units will be without residents in them for months at a time even in the brightest economic conditions.

However they become vacant, empty units can pose certain challenges for property managers and board members, whose managerial and administrative jobs continue year-round, regardless of the community’s population on any given day. Those challenges can include issues regarding security, emergency access to units, voting issues, and communication with residents, all of which is complicated when a significant percentage of a community is uninhabited. With fewer people around, it's much tougher to cultivate a sense of neighborliness, and there are fewer eyes to watch out for problems. Following some best practices for dealing with uninhabited units can help management, maintenance staff, and residents successfully manage these issues. Part of the process involves knowing what to look for, and part of it involves preparation.

Neighbors Away

Industry experts in Florida vary in their estimates regarding the percentage of co-op and condo units that are currently empty but many believe there are far fewer these days than at the nadir of the Great Recession, the effect of which many say is finally waning.

“What I can say is, the number has definitely gone down,” says Hedy Maurer, vice president of Association Services of Florida, which has several locations across the state and is part of national property management firm Associa. Of those units that are empty, most are due to the lingering recession and legal holdups with banks and titles, Maurer says.

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