Surfside-inspired condo reforms watered down; bill retains ‘milestone’ inspections

“Sometimes, 60 days isn’t enough to address some issues.”

By: - March 10, 2022 2:32 pm

Rescue workers at the remains of the Champlain Towers South condominium building. Credit: Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department

Legislation, inspired by the Surfside condo disaster, to require “milestone” structural inspections of multi-resident buildings has cleared the Florida Senate but in a watered-down form.

The measure still requires periodic inspections of multi-unit buildings statewide, but has lost language tightening regulation of condo and coop association budgeting and financial reserves, including money for maintenance and structural repairs.

Bill sponsor Jennifer Bradley of Northeast Florida said that change represented a compromise.

“Sometimes, 60 days isn’t enough to address some issues. Apparently, sweeping condo reform is one of them,” Bradley said.

Sixty days is the length of the Legislature’s regular session, which ends on Friday (although leaders plan to extend through Monday to pass the new state budget).

The vote was 38-0.

Because of the changes the Senate made, the bill (HB 7069) has to go back to the House for final passage.

Ninety-eight people died when the Champlain Towers South in Surfside collapsed on June 24 last year, reportedly following years of deferred maintenance.

Under the revised bill, association boards in buildings within three miles of the coast got a little more leeway than the original Senate bill provided: Inspections would be required 25 years after an initial certificate of occupancy and every 10 year thereafter.

All other high-rises in the state would be inspected after 30 years and every 10 years thereafter.

The special treatment for coastal structures is necessary because of the damage salty sea air can inflict on steel-reinforced structures. A Miami-Dade County grand jury report found that was a factor in the Surfside disaster.

Licensed engineers or architects would perform visual inspections of the structures. If they find evidence of compromised structural integrity, they’d be authorized to perform more intensive inspections.

Unit owners and prospective buyers would have the right to inspect and copy the reports of these inspection findings.

Florida has some 500,000 condo units between 40 and 50 years old and more than 100 that are 50 years old or greater but no requirement they be inspected apart from local mandates in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

During committee hearings on building safety, Will Simons president of the Miami office of the financial analysis company Association Reserves testified that he’d warned the Champlain Towers South Board that it had dangerously low reserves against the repairs the 40-year-old building needed.

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.