The firm’s latest Miami Herald “Real Estate Counselor” column authored by Gary M. Mars appears in today’s Neighbors section and is titled “What’s Next for Condo-Safety Reforms After Legislature Fails to Act?”. The article focuses on the very poor marks that the state legislature has received in newspaper editorials from the Herald and across the state for its failure to pass any condominium-safety reforms after the horrific Champlain Towers tragedy. It notes the editorials lament that the two chambers ultimately could not reach bicameral agreement on whether to require condominium associations to maintain financial reserves for major structural maintenance and repairs, and they are certainly correct to bemoan the legislative shortfall. Gary’s article continues:
. . . However, from the point of view of someone who has kept a finger on the pulse of the state’s condominium laws for the past 30 years, the failure of the legislators to pass reforms during the session that began just over six months after the collapse was not surprising. Lawmakers in Florida as well as other states have been grappling with the issues of high-rise structural inspections and condominium association financial reserves for decades, not-to-mention fire sprinkler and suppression systems that can be very difficult and expensive to retrofit into older buildings.
It was perhaps overly auspicious of lawmakers to propose sweeping reforms without having first ironed out many of the important aspects of the proposals in the pre-session legislative meetings. They put forth many of the recommendations from task forces from engineering/construction trade groups and The Florida Bar, but they ultimately could not agree on the details of inspection dates and reserve funding levels.
Even with no changes to the state’s laws, significant condo-safety reforms are being implemented by lenders after major changes in underwriting requirements from government-sponsored Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In fact, many associations have already been struggling to comply with the new requirement from these quasi government agencies for lenders to have the condominium associations for mortgage applicants complete an eight-page form. For towers in their teen years that have never conducted any kind of major engineering inspections, association directors are completely unequipped to attest to their buildings’ current structural integrity in these questionnaires, and the potential legal liabilities would preclude them from making such representations.
Property insurers are also expected to begin implementing new standards and requirements for structural reviews of aging towers as part of their underwriting procedures. In addition, Miami-Dade recently passed a new ordinance creating a public registry of financial documents and structural reports from practically all condominium associations in the county, and other counties and local municipalities may follow suit by implementing new requirements for building inspections and public filings of association records.
At the federal level, the U.S. Congress also needs to consider funding programs for low- or no-interest loans for associations in need of emergency funds for critical structural rehabilitations. Such loans could help to bridge the gap between associations with inadequate reserves and immediate needs for major remediations, versus those that still have enough time to build their reserves for future projects. . .
Gary concludes his column by suggesting that the state’s lawmakers should not give up after the disappointment of 2022, and they should be highly encouraged by all their constituents across Florida to take the remainder of the year to work through the myriad difficult details of condo-safety legislation. He implores them to consider the real-world implementation of reserve studies and funding levels for buildings at different stages of their lifespan, and to consult closely with engineering groups and local building officials regarding inspection requirements and enforcement actions.
Our firm salutes Gary for sharing his insights into these vital matters for Florida condominiums with the readers of the Miami Herald. Click here to read the complete article in the newspaper’s website.