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8:38 AM, Posted by Editorial Staff, No Comment

Ft. Lauderdale, FL
June 3, 2009

I have found the perfect way to make a fortune and the best thing is it’s easy. I just pretend I have a P.E. (professional engineer) license and go around condo buildings, see the board associations and talk them into a survey where I can tell them that their perfectly adequate balconies – that may only need a little repair, or not even that – will require full concrete restoration, costing them $million$. Since this cost will be borne by each condo owner, the board has the power (total power, in fact) to tell the owners it is an emergency or required maintenance. Of course, I will start with a much lower price, say $50,000, and then just keep adding extra costs and build up to a price of millions and millions. Just one condo will keep me in luxury but there are plenty around for the taking. I saw half a dozen high-rise condos next to each other with all the balconies removed last year – someone else got there first. Good for them, as it makes it easier for me.

Once I get into one balcony I will give them the bad news -- for them anyway, but not for me. I will tell the board association that we have to dig into their living rooms, which means replacing the windows and even the railings. I pretend to prepare them for the worst and say that I will only do it if it is absolutely necessary. When we take the balconies apart and dig into the living rooms, I will say we found that the rebars were rusted. Who will question the expert? The owners don’t know that some rust is “good” -- it will just look bad to them. Then the windows will be out of code and I will recommend some of my pals to do the work and get a “kickback” from them. Then the railings will have to come off as these will probably be out of code, too, and have to be replaced, meaning lots more work for me. I can handle plenty of business because I can just hire lots of illegal workers. It really is wonderful, just the same way the old roofer or paver cons used to work until people got wise; in fact, it’s easier than taking candy from a baby.

Life is great in Florida. Of course, this is not only where the wealthy come because they can afford it, but a place in the sun also attracts the shady characters. Among them are the clever folks that have made their money from ripping people off and are now retired but cannot resist this easy money, especially when they hardly have to do anything. They merely have to find a condo to buy into, be charming and helpful and get elected onto a board and then simply sign contracts galore. There is no comeback with the law protecting them with a series of loopholes. I do a bit of homework before I go into a condo building and identify the gullible and crooked, and then give them a great quote. Sometimes they don’t even ask for other bids, which is better because my price can be sky-high.

More good news: It doesn't matter if the balconies are not showing any telltale signs of concrete problems. I will just say that the “corruption” is going on underneath. Did I say “corruption”? Sorry, I meant “corrosion.”

They will believe me just like you believe the dentist when he tells that you your gums look infected so you better do something now or it may be too late. If you don't act quickly, not only will you lose your teeth, but you won't be able to have the work done without additional costs as your gums will have caused too many problems.

I will take the board members around and I will do a few taps here and there on the concrete or tiles. They don’t know that the difference in sounds can be normal. I will look perplexed and shake my head and say the concrete is becoming dangerous and that we need to dig into it. Any proof of the balcony being in good condition will have gone and so I am in the clear. This is the old-fashioned scare tactic from a professional, and since the professionals have such a bad reputation in Florida I won’t be alone. Any workman with integrity we will make look bad by under-pricing him at the beginning and then bring in colossal prices once we get to work in the building.

Of course, the owners and board members will believe me because I am the expert. I won’t be challenged, since everyone else seems to be doing it. The condo owners themselves can just get a loan for the $50,000-$70,000 they will eventually need, because if they don’t pay they will have a lien put on them. If they can't afford it, they shouldn't be living in a condo anyway, in my opinion.

Since we have a recession at the moment, even some unscrupulous realtors have gotten wise and bought themselves condos, wormed their way onto the board and manipulated some of the easily led so they can get kickbacks. With concrete restoration in mind, their commission for this type of work will be equivalent to a few years’ salary on a building with a few hundred balconies. Another scenario: If the condo is in a good position then just make sure the cost is far more than the condo owners can afford and bankrupt the association with their commission running into $million$. Of course, they will choose their building wisely. It’s not too clever to pick one with lots of members who are attorneys or professionals, better to go for the retired and meek. There are plenty of them around in this place where people have worked all their lives to live in comfort with lots of savings for me to spend.

A corrupt board member is great for me, as it saves me having to talk the condo owners into agreeing to the work. My presentation will be easy and approval a foregone conclusion. There we go again -- that word corruption. I price the job to include 25% extra so I can pay the corrupt board members money under the table and if they are not corrupt then they are generally just stupid and I get paid over the odds anyway. I really can't lose because nobody checks out what I am saying and many of the other engineers are selling the same “snake oil” to condo owners.

The owners or board don't know that you never have to take a balcony off as you just have to mix the concrete onsite. It is a simple procedure. They don't even know there will be signs if there is something wrong and any cracks should be “monitored” for a year and if there is anything wrong within about a year it will show up. But most of us “professionals” don’t like the word “monitored.” It costs us the contract.

One or two balconies fell down a few years ago, due to bad concrete, so it scares people. They don't realize that a simple test will show if inferior concrete was used to construct the building. Some idiots mixed sea water into the concrete in the 1960s and after about 30 years the buildings may be dangerous. It couldn't be better -- I can just say that your balcony may fall down if you don't do the work and then you could be sued. You will easily be swayed into paying for my services.

Other great news is that I don't have to guarantee the balconies for more than five years. Like other contractors, we don't need to give long guarantees, so I can use a mix that ensures the concrete doesn't last and the same scenario can be repeated over and over, bringing in repeat business. If the condo owners are suspicious, it doesn't matter. They will shout and moan, but they won't get anyone to pay the legal costs to sue the contractors. For some strange reason, they prefer to borrow the money or go into their savings rather than make a fuss so the ones that do complain get beaten down and ostracized within the community. As a grand finale, the fact that I am unlicensed simply doesn't matter.

Of course, I will be using illegal aliens that cannot speak English. My work may be shoddy, but no problem there, as the crooked board members will give me great references, won't they? They have to, because I gave them a kickback! I will just steer the new business to the corrupt or stupid associations. Not the unit owners, of course, or they will expose my shoddy work.

Life is great in Florida, The Sunshine State. Since it has a constantly changing population, I can work for years on this scam. Have a nice day.

We only want to do the work that should be done on our condos. We don’t want to avoid regular maintenance just to save money, but we are not willing to be seriously ripped off either.

This story may sound far fetched, but it is what has been happening to me with our “Condo Hell” so I put this story together to show how ridiculous it is. It is taken from interviews with contractors, condo owners and associations both good and bad. I have been fighting this situation for over three years and I am embroiled in a court case with our association at the moment.

No one would have believed that the engineer was not licensed, not even the planning department.

We have fought against all odds and had some great help from people we have met through condo attorney Inger Garcia, Jan from Cyber Citizens For Justice, Inc., Steve publisher of Fort Lauderdale City News and other friends that have ferociously fought for us and helped us keep our focus.

Amazingly, we have even found a few licensed engineers and contractors that are not in the so-called fraternity/club in Fort Lauderdale -- engineers and contractors that are NOT going round doing unnecessary concrete restoration. Due to either corruption or ignorance, there may be other owners that are going through the same thing in Fort Lauderdale and other towns in Florida.

If it happens to you, you won’t know what’s hit you; and even worse you may actually believe it was correct to remove your balcony. You may be correct, but it is unlikely.

In fact, the truly poverty-stricken persons have been proven to have more protection than condo owners.

St. Augustine Shores Homeowner Association
St. Augustine Shores, Shores Service Corporation
St. Augustine Shores Condominium
Conquistador Condominium, Greens Condominium
Greens II Condominium, Fairview Condominium
Casa Bella Condominium, St. Augustine Shores News