Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Building codes and developers' brains

I have a touch of a summer cold today and thus a respite from hunting for my next place with a view. Yesterday I almost rented a view at THE location for me - close to the most picturesque beach in Puerto Rico... too bad the view and the location did not have a habitable - for me - place.

The condo buildings were turned the wrong way and had no private balconies - only public ones: entry corridors serving as the only balconies.

Such a pity, because the other side of the condo buildings - where large bedroom windows are - has a view of salt fields and of famous Playa Sucia. Obviously the bedrooms beg for large private balconies and for buildings to be turned around, so that the entries would face the road and the salt fields and the bedrooms with their large balconies would face the quieter side and even prettier views.

It also looks like the owners might be trying to cut corners on common amenities: there was not a single pool chair or bed around the large double pool and the huge flower "pots" around the pools were left unplanted and untended. In the middle of the HIGH season!

Now try to convince me that the developer of this property in the best location in west PR had even an once of brain! Ha!

Now the interiors: the space of a one bedroom condo (and it looks like all of them are one bedrooms and the same size) was about 400-450 sf. That would be OK for me - I could do some serious minimalist living there, if the floor plan was even minimally acceptable, but it was not.

The bedroom took more than half of the space - overcrowded with two full size beds... while the front had a wall of kitchen cabinets and appliances in full view of entry, a tiny table and a futon sofa bed - the only "reminder" that it was supposed to be a living room there - only someone cut out all the space for it! It was hard to even turn around without bumping into something.

I was told those tiny places usually house about 6 people! Imagine, in such a tight space! Puerto Ricans must be used to/like? serious overcrowding and no privacy whatsoever! At the beginning of the week the space was practically deserted: I have seen only a handful of cars parked there. But I had a terrifying vision of what it might look like - and sound like - on a weekend with kids running wild along the entry balconies - since there is no space for them to play indoors when it rains and no amenities to use to play outdoors. Would I be able to relax after hard week's work accompanied by abundance of kids? Definitively not! I hate loud music and noise of any kind.

I was used to overcrowding once, long time ago - in communist Poland - where there was such a huge shortage of apartments (forget houses, these were only for party bosses and similar... unless, of course your family had one standing from before the war, but as heavily bombed as Poland was, they weren't many of them left), that an extended family or two (5-10 people) had to squeeze themselves in about 600 sf of the average three tiny rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom, because even after you paid full amount of a condo price (forget mortgages, there were none) to a state owned "cooperative", you had to usually wait 10-15 years for the condo to be built and delivered ( I know, it must sound utterly unbelievable particularly to Americans, but it is sadly very true), and in the meantime you were overcrowded and, on top of that, asked to pay some more money every few years or so, due to inflation, which, officially, did not exist in a socialist economy! (And yes, a car, if you wanted one, even a tiny Fiat 126, or crummy East German Trabant, you had to fully prepay, too, and wait 5 years on the average... paying some more every year).
Typical Polish apartment houses from communist era

So we hated our overcrowding with a vengeance and hated commies who made us living like sardines in a can, who made us paupers and tried to make us slaves. I seriously doubt that any of my old Polish neighbors would voluntarily entertain an idea of buying a too tiny and too badly designed condo for his/her family if he/she had any other choices - and mortgages, oh boy!

So why do Puerto Ricans, who should tell their brainless developers to go stuff themselves- do - actually buy such crap??? Amazing!

Stockholm - Soedern

Then I lived in Stockholm, which, being a typical Swedish big city is in 63% (yes, 63 %!) inhabited by SINGLE HOUSEHOLDS!
Swedes love their privacy, may be a tad in extreme, and yes, I, too, liked it a lot - no wonder, after forced overcrowding before....

Even after I got married to my Swedish hubby, we both kept our separate apartments in different parts of the city for almost half a year until Erik started building us a lake house - a vacation property, for which we needed the money. When it was ready we decided to live there together most of the time (it was located only about 10 km away from a commuter train), keeping only one of the apartments in Stockholm (for late night work, entertainment outings and bad weather), and then, I, working for a bank, got a sweet deal for bank's employees: 125% financing on a bank's owned house in the Stockholm's archipelago - one of the scenic wonders of the world - and - lo and behold - finally got a permission from Polish authorities to reunite with my daughter, who was, in a way, a commie hostage for almost 3 years. That's when Erik, I and daughter started living like a normal (in American sense) family: together in only one house in the suburbs and one vacation villa in the country.

But I am ranting and ranting and ranting and said nothing yet of building codes and developers brains. What gives?

Well, due to a cold I have taken an afternoon nap and then I had this weird dreams, where I was looking inside Puerto Rican developers skulls looking for their brains... and could not find any.

Yeah, I firmly believe that a total brainlessness is a required (?) characteristic of Puerto Rican developers. Particularly condo developers.

And the question is: where are building codes? Where is their enforcement? Why are the brainless guys (I firmly believe they are exclusively guys - women usually have at least an ounce of common sense if not an actual brain) allowed to take the best, most scenic pieces of land, some of them quite unique and put uninhabitable horror multifamily dwellings on them???

I remember that in Sweden we used to gripe about the strictness of Swedish building codes, which dictated even the minimum length of a hat shelf in the entry! (Yes, I am not kidding! Not only you had to have a hat shelf in every entry - the hat shelve had to be of a specified length!)
Yes, it was an overkill for single family homes (though no one thought of building like in the US - without entries, front doors leading directly to a living or dining room - this a US touch with brainlessness- at least in houses built like that you'd have an option of entering through a garage in inclement weather instead of dragging all mud etc to your living or dining room!), I agree, but not for condos or apartment building.
Uninhabitable monstrosities seem to be the norm for condo buildings in Cabo Rojo, while with stricter and better enforced building codes they would be stopped already at the drawing boards .... and so they should here !

Only, for the monstrous condos already having been built - and even sold to unsuspecting Puerto Rican buyers, who, perhaps, lack exposure to anything better... what shall be done with them?
Reconstruction of a badly design single family house is a lot easier than reconstruction of badly designed apartment houses.
And if those monsters are the only condos in a place you love - what do you do? Rent a view and a location and try not to get furious several times a day trying to live in an unlivable space????

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