Finally: Surfside-inspired condo reforms pass FL Legislature during its special session

Bill requires inspections, forbids waiver of maintenance assessments

By: - May 25, 2022 4:57 pm

Champlain Towers South, a 12-story beachfront condominium building in the Miami suburb of Surfside, partially collapsed on June 24, 2021. A controlled demolition took down the rest of the structure on July 4, 2021. Credit: Wikipedia.

Thirty days before the one-year anniversary of the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside, which killed 98 people, the Florida Legislature has finally approved legislation designed to keep the tragedy from happening again.

The 110-0 vote Wednesday in the state House, following approval by the Senate the day before, is now on its way (SB 4-D) to Gov. Ron DeSantis for consideration. The legislation would subject older condominium and cooperative buildings to routine inspections and end the ability of association boards to waive unit assessments needed to pay for maintenance and repairs.

State Rep. Joseph Geller, representing parts of Broward, Miami-Dade. Credit: FL House of Representatives

During House debate, Democrat Joe Geller, whose district includes Surfside, described how the family of a close friend survived the collapse and had to be plucked from their balcony by a cherry picker.

Geller congratulated House sponsor Daniel Perez, a Miami-Dade Republican, for persuading the Senate to accept language forbidding condo association from waiving those assessments — one of the sticking points that prevented a fix during the Legislature’s regular session earlier this year.

The condo reforms were an addition to the original special session agenda — lawmakers had been working solely on a property insurance overhaul to help Florida’s collapsing marketplace.

Geller is leaving the Legislature this year. “If this is the last vote that I ever take as a member of this House, it might be the proudest,” he said. “This matters — this will mean there won’t be a repetition.”

“This bill makes this trip worth it,” Michael Grieco, a Miami-Dade Democrat, said.

“People talk about coming to Tallahassee to do good work. This is real policy. This is real change, affecting real families in the past but also in the future,” Perez said.

Regular inspections

Daniel Perez. Credit: Florida House of Representatives

The bill requires “milestone inspections” for structures of three stories or more 30 years after they receives their certificates of occupancy and every 10 years thereafter. If a structure is within three miles of the coast, the first inspection would come 25 years following the certificate was issued.

Visual inspections would be done by licensed architects or engineers. If they find evidence of “substantial structural deterioration” that 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.

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

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.