FL Legislature takes up Surfside-inspired condo-safety bill during its special session

Boards no longer could put off owner assessments to pair for repairs

By: - May 24, 2022 2:29 pm

The Champlain Towers South condo ruins in Surfside. Credit: Miami Dade Fire and Rescue

Update: The House Appropriations Committee approved HB 5-D late this afternoon. The Senate approved SB 4 Tuesday evening, related in part to condominium and cooperative association buildings that are three or more stories. It is connected with the Surfside tragedy.

The Florida Legislature voted Tuesday to extend its special session on property insurance to take up legislation toughening inspection schedules and financial reserves for condo buildings inspired by the June 2021 building collapse that killed 98 people in Surfside in Miami-Dade County.

Both chambers agreed by voice vote to take up the matter, which the Legislature conspicuously failed to accomplish during its 60-day regular session earlier this year.

A House-Senate compromise bill (HB 5-D) would subject older condominium and cooperative buildings to routine inspections and end the ability of association boards to waive owner assessments needed to pay for repairs.

“The associations will no longer be able to waive the requirement of reserves which currently exist. That is the most important part of the bill for those of us in the House,” the House sponsor, Republican Danny Perez of Miami-Dade County, told reporters following that chamber’s vote.

“This is a win for us in the House and the Senate and for the governor, as well. But, most importantly, this is a win for the families of Surfside. I have real relationships with them, and what they went through is something that we never want to see again for any other family in Florida. And I think we accomplish that by, hopefully, passing this bill this week,” he said.

The bill requires “milestone inspections” for any structure of three stories or more in height 30 years after it receives its certificate of occupancy and every 10 years thereafter. If the structure is within three miles of the coast, the first inspection would come 25 years following the certificate’s issuance.

These would entail visual inspections by licensed architects or engineers. Evidence of “substantial structural deterioration” would spark more intrusive inspections. Findings would go to condo boards and local building officials, plus every unit owner.

Boards would have one year to begin any recommended repairs.

Additionally, the legislation would mandate audits of condos’ structural integrity reserves to make sure they are sufficient to pay for repairs.

The studies would “state the estimated remaining useful life and the estimated replacement cost or deferred maintenance expense of the common areas being visually inspected, and provide a recommended annual reserve amount that achieves the estimated replacement cost or deferred maintenance expense of each common area being visually inspected by the end of the estimated remaining useful life of each common area,” the bill text says.

Significantly, associations no longer could waive assessments needed to pay for repairs to roofs, load-bearing walls and structural members, foundations, fireproofing and fire-protection systems, plumbing, electrical systems, waterproofing and exterior painting, and windows.

“Having the requirement to collect reserves was insignificant and meaningless if you gave the ability to associations to waive it. And so, what we’ve done is specific to structural integrity. And that’s important for everyone to understand. This is specific to structural integrity. They will have to collect reserves. Under no circumstances will they be able to waive that requirement,” Perez said.

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.

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.

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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.

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