Newspaper editorials gave the state legislature very low marks for its failure to pass condominium safety reforms after the horrific Champlain Towers tragedy. A Herald editorial denounced lawmakers’ failure to reach agreement on a bill “to revamp the state’s lax condo regulations and require periodic building inspections.” He noted that in the months following the collapse, “legal and engineering experts came together to offer recommendations for reform, some of which resulted in bills that were moving through the House and Senate.”
The Herald editorial and others lament that the two houses were ultimately unable to reach a bicameral agreement on whether to require condominium corporations to maintain financial reserves for maintenance and repairs. major structures. Given the horrific tragedy that claimed the lives of 98 people, as well as the fact that there are potentially other aging buildings across the state with serious structural deficiencies and financial constraints, they are certainly right to deplore the legislative shortfall.
However, from the perspective of someone who has taken the pulse of state condominium laws over the past 30 years, lawmakers’ failure to pass reforms during the session that started a little more than six months after the collapse was not surprising. Lawmakers in Florida as well as other states have grappled with the problems of high-rise structural inspections and condominium corporation financial reserves for decades, not to mention fire and sprinkler systems. which can be very difficult and expensive to retrofit in older buildings. .
It was perhaps too propitious for lawmakers to propose sweeping reforms without first ironing out many of the important aspects of the proposals in pre-sessional legislative meetings. They presented numerous recommendations from the task forces of the engineering/construction trade groups and the Florida Bar, but ultimately could not agree on the specifics of inspection dates and reserve funding levels. .
Even without changes to state laws, major condominium security reforms are being implemented by lenders after major changes to government-sponsored Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac underwriting requirements . In fact, many corporations have already struggled to comply with these quasi-governmental bodies’ new requirement for lenders to have condominium corporations fill out an eight-page form for mortgage applicants. For towers in their teens that have never performed major technical inspections, association directors are completely unequipped to attest to the current structural integrity of their buildings in these questionnaires, and potential legal liabilities would preclude them to make such statements.
Property insurers are also expected to begin implementing new standards and requirements for structural reviews of aging towers as part of their underwriting procedures. Additionally, Miami-Dade recently passed a new ordinance creating a public registry of financial records and structural reporting. of virtually every condominium corporation in the county, and other counties and local municipalities can follow suit by implementing new requirements for building inspections and public filing of corporation records.
At the federal level, the US Congress should also consider funding low- or no-interest loan programs for associations in need of emergency funds for critical structural rehabilitations. Such loans could help bridge the gap between associations with insufficient reserves and immediate need for major repairs, and those who still have enough time to build up their reserves for future projects.
State lawmakers should not give up after the disappointment of 2022, and they should be strongly encouraged by all of their constituents across Florida to take the rest of the year to work through the myriad of difficult details in the legislation on condo security. They should consider the actual implementation of reserve studies and funding levels for buildings at different stages of their lifespan, and they should also consult closely with engineering groups and local building officials regarding requirements. inspection and enforcement measures. By listening to the experts and considering as many details as possible before the start of next year’s session in January, state lawmakers could make 2023 the year Florida takes the national vanguard in condominium security legislation.
Gary M. Mars is a shareholder in the Coral Gables-based law firm Siegfried Rivera, which is certified in community association law by the Florida Bar. He is a regular contributor to the firm’s association law blog at www.FloridaHOALawyerBlog.com. The firm also has offices in Broward and Palm Beach counties, and its lawyers focus on real estate, community associations, construction, insurance, and bankruptcy law. [email protected]SiegfriedRivera.com, www.SiegfriedRivera.com305-442-3334.