Gary A. Poliakoff Esq. – A Condominium & Homeowners Association Pioneer and Advocate
by Charles R. Tutwiler on 8/28/2014
I was very sorry to read in the South Florida Business Journal about the untimely passing of Attorney Gary Poliakoff. Gary Poliakoff was a giant in the field of shared community and condominium living. Along with his partner Allen Becker, they founded Becker & Poliakoff headquartered in Ft Lauderdale Florida that over the years has become a legal juggernaut. The name Becker & Poliakoff has become a brand in and of itself and is synonymous with any issues involving communal property living.
After reading the article, my mind was flooded with the many memories working with Gary and others in his firm over the years on a variety of insurance property issues. Probably my first meeting with this firm was in their Clearwater office back in the early 80’s. From that beginning I tried to make it a priority to network with their attorneys, as to put it bluntly, Becker & Poliakoff was the 800lb. gorilla in their field, the gate keeper to all those big buildings and homeowner associations.
Not sure of the timing of my first meeting with Gary, but I do recall some of the losses I worked on with the firm’s attorneys and clients in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew. Those were crazy times, standing in a line in the Ft Lauderdale airport waiting to grab a pay phone (not much cell services back then) to make one of many calls to Becker & Poliakoff attorneys in our pursuit of settlements of various condo losses.
I do recall one of my meetings with Gary in the early 90’s in their Ft Lauderdale Sterling Road office. Back then I was on the road seeking clients for covered collapse claims. Gary was very receptive to anything that would help his clients and maybe because we had the same hair cut we hit it off. In short, I liked him and could tell he was a quality guy, all business and most importantly ethical, hard working, and all about keeping best interests of his clients.
As time passed we often spoke on the phone and I recall one call I made to him seeking some advice on a very large condominium fire claim I was retained on in Ft Lauderdale. Not surprisingly, there was an impasse of sorts with the insurance company over the damages and in particular the contractor the association hired to scope and price the repairs. The insurance company sent me a letter saying that it was their understanding that the condo association board had to get three bids in accordance with their fiduciary duties to the unit owners. Subsequently, they were requiring us to produce the three bids. A quick call to Gary settled the issue. He instructed me to inform the insurance company that the fire (a multiple million loss) was an “emergency” so the condo did not have to get three bids. Thus the condo association could proceed with their own contractor to finish the repairs. That was the last we heard from them on that issue. A call from Gary saved the day at no cost to the condo association. Knowledge is power and Gary had the knowledge and graciously shared it with this association and me.
The respect, reputation and reach of the Becker & Poliakoff law firm, may be best illustrated by the an event that occurred in 1995 when Hurricane Opal ravaged the Florida Panhandle. Communities from Panama Beach to Pensacola were severely damaged or destroyed. The Panhandle condominium community had a well-run CAI chapter, and of course they reached out to Gary and Allen Becker. As I recall, a large forum was rented at one of the resorts and I attended along with several hundred folks desperate for help. The word was out that Allen Becker from Becker&Poliakoff was coming and that was the talk of all the tables. Needless to say he had the whole audience attention when he spoke. When the insurance questions started coming, I never will forgot Allen graciously said to the audience, “You got the man to answers those questions sitting right here, Dick Tutwiler.” That made my day!
A few years later Hurricane Ivan struck the Florida Panhandle. Gary called and wanted to know if I could meet him and their panhandle attorney Ray Newman for a meeting with some of his clients in Ft Walton Beach. I had worked with Ray in Hurricane Opal matters so we new each other. So I said sure and made arrangements to fly up. When I got there to my surprise Gary had rented the Ft Walton Civic Center. The place was packed, standing room only. Gary, Ray and I shared stories from past disasters and give advice to the residents of the many communities in attendance. I covered the insurance adjusting issues and Gary and Ray covered the legal issues these folks were likely to encounter in the recovery and re-building process. We were well received and very pleased to provide some knowledge and information to the shell shocked residents of this beach community.
After Ivan followed Hurricanes Jean and Francis. By this time I was on the road 24/7 all over Florida. Gary again called and asked if I would attend another community meeting with some of his attorneys and their clients in the Stuart, Fl. area. At the time we spoke one hurricane had hit and another was in the Atlantic. I will never forget getting to the meeting (another packed house) and being handed a copy of the most recent National Hurricane Center tracking forecast from one of Gary’s colleagues. The projection of the storm was right where we were sitting.
Next year it was Hurricane Wilma. Talk about some battle hardened troops! Gary’s firm and mine were ready and thus another long process began helping folks recover with a focus on the laws that effected communal living and the insurance adjusting process.
Lastly, I want to comment on the contribution Gary Ploiakoff made to an organization I am pleased to be a part of. Back in the early 90’s, it became clear that there was a need for a forum that provided education to the various parties involved with the wind and other perils that followed or contributed concurrently. Thus the Windstorm Insurance Network® was established. Not surprisingly, condominiums and other forms of multi-family living have a big footprint in loss adjusting. Because of ownership issues and laws that are constantly changing with these types of property, settling these claims are always problematic.
Back when the Windstorm Network was formed, it was clear we needed someone with the credibility and deep knowledge to help with the education process in the condo work shops. I called on Gary and of course he readily agreed to help out. Thus started a number of years where at our annual Wind Conference Gary or someone from the firm were always presenting, sharing information and educating an eclectic group of professionals involved in the insurance claim property adjusting process.
Gary Poliakoff’s contribution and participation to the Windstorm Insurance Network will be acknowledge at the opening general session during the annual convention in New Orleans in February of 2015. A well deserved tribute.