Penthouse Proceed: Work Restarts As State Clarifies Essential Service

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Even if I had this contractor’s phone number, I wouldn’t share.

Last week you read about the Penthouse Pause, where construction on my high-rise flip-and-live project had been halted due to COVID-19. That column was written over a week ago (I write most columns on weekends) and things changed during that ensuing week.

We all know COVID-19 has forced daily changes to how the world operates – what’s open, what’s closed, masked, unmasked. Two weeks ago I spoke with an attorney out of Houston who specializes in legal issues faced by multi-family dwellings – apartments or condo.  I wanted a fresh perspective to construction halts I’d heard, experienced and written about in high-rises and whether they were legal.

“If you expect them to be rational, don’t.”

In our overall conversation about the conflicting statutes and recommendations he said, “If you expect them to be rational, don’t.”  But he did tell me I could apply for an exemption from the state – specifically the Texas Division of Emergency Management. They even had a web form to submit (here).

With nothing to lose, I filled in the form, clicked “submit” and waited. Given the crazy busy-ness departments like this must be experiencing, who knew how long an answer would take – if any answer was received at all.

HOAs Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

In the ensuing week, I found out about other renovators whose approved and permitted work had also been halted. Renovators at 3525 and 3883 Turtle Creek challenged their HOA board’s in early April. Both HOAs were told variously by their insurance carrier, attorney and the city’s code compliance office that in-process work is protected as an essential service and that the building might be liable for damages by interfering.

In my case, the state responded barely a week after submission – happily fast.

Their response was much the same as the others, basically saying that what I was doing was already considered an essential service and should proceed. I suspected this all along, but there can be a lot of asterisks on government directives.

The past weeks of work stoppage were the result of HOAs shooting first and asking questions later.

Doing What Is Necessary For Safety

After I stopped jumping for joy, I forwarded the email to my HOA with a note that said essentially “the state says this is an essential service and shouldn’t have been closed. I’m happy to meet with you to discuss whatever safety precautions I need to take but that my renovation would resume the following week.” 

I did meet with the HOA leader Thursday last week and we discussed concerns and reviewed a number of safety precautions my crew needed to make. The meeting was cordial and pleasant – if a little odd at opposite ends of a 12-foot long table. We spoke of many things and was an overall nice chat.

In the end, I was more than happy to do whatever it took to make everyone feel safe and protected. The last thing I want to do is spread disease in the building or among construction workers. I think I differ from some in believing there are ways in which work and safety can coexist.

When I got back to my unit, I texted another desperate renovator in the building “You’re welcome.” I’m sure she didn’t quite know what I meant until they called her to give her the news – and then I got a “Thank you!”

Other High-Rise Renovators

I know more than a few Turtle Creek high-rises remain closed to renovators – seemingly until someone questions the closure. Some have already reversed those decisions.

Renovators in other buildings that remain closed to contractors are welcome to forward this column to their HOA boards. They can also file for their own exemption from the state at the link above or call Dallas’s code compliance office.

That said, renovators shouldn’t even have to do that. You see, high-rise HOAs and building managers regularly communicate with each other, making any surprise at the events I’ve recounted here feigned.

Be Kind And Be Careful

If your building is open or reopens, be kind. Everyone is afraid and deserves to feel safe. Go out of your way to follow the rules and limit exposure for your neighbors and workers. Construction workers don’t have the luxury of not working. Safely putting them back to work helps everyone.

And besides, these begrudging HOAs will be watching for any excuse to shut a project down. I hear at least one is even filming workers’ comings and goings looking for the tiniest of infractions.

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Jon Anderson

Jon Anderson is CandysDirt.com's condo/HOA and developer columnist, but also covers second home trends on SecondShelters.com. An award-winning columnist, Jon has earned silver and bronze awards for his columns from the National Association of Real Estate Editors in both 2016, 2017 and 2018. When he isn't in Hawaii, Jon enjoys life in the sky in Dallas.

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