The Legislature’s inability to pass any legislation updating condo regulations in the wake of last summer’s disaster that killed 98 people stunned observers.
The Senate Thursday passed House-approved legislation (HB 7069) that would have required regular inspections of aging multifamily buildings three stories or taller. As she explained the bill, Sen. Jennifer Bradley resolved the Surfside disaster would never happen again.
According to the legislation, condo buildings within three miles of the coast would have been inspected when they reach 25 years of age; others, at 30 years. The Senate amended the bill, taking out the House bill’s provisions regulating how much reserve funding condos were required to have and when studies should be done of how much reserve would be needed.
“It’s amazing to me they couldn’t reach consensus,” said Jeffrey Rembaum, a Palm Beach Gardens lawyer certified in condo and planned development law. “I’m at a loss for words. We depend on our Legislature to pass laws to keep us safe. They had a perfect opportunity to limit the chance this would happen again and they did nothing.
“It’s a sad state of affairs,” he added.
Broward County Commissioner Steve Geller, who served 10 years in Senate, led a study group that took 27 hours of testimony on how to reform Florida’s condo regs and submitted proposals to the Legislature. He also agreed the Session represented a lost opportunity.
“Both houses had different visions of how far they wanted to go … They should have at least passed what they could agree on,” Geller said. “However, having spent 20 sessions up there, when you send bills back and forth in the last few days of Session, I know that if they are not one of the priorities of the President or Speaker, sometime they just don’t get taken up again.”
“I sincerely hope they will take it up next year,” he said.
Republican Miami Rep. Daniel Perez, who introduced the bill that nearly made it to the finish line said that he too was disappointed: “For the Surfside families and all the Floridians who live in condominiums.”
For him, passing a bill that only had the inspections was hardly reform.
“Miami-Dade and Broward already have inspections,” he said.
The 12-story Champlain Towers South was 40 years old when it collapsed in the predawn hours of June 24.
The cause of the disaster has not been officially assigned, but a paper trail showed the Champlain Towers South’s condo association board was at odds over how to pay for repairs at the aging building.
For this Session, nine bills sought to change rules regarding condominium associations. Numerous study groups including Geller’s were formed to look at best practices and propose changes.
An estimated 2 million people live in 912,000 Florida condo units that are 30 years or older. Another 131,773 units are 20 to 30 years old, according to the Florida Engineering Society & American Council of Engineering Companies of Florida.
It’s not the first time the Legislature has waffled on more tightly regulating condominiums. Condo inspections were required in legislation passed in 2008 but the requirement was quickly repealed in 2010.
The executive director of the engineering society and council called the failure to pass any legislation this year a “missed opportunity,” according to a news release.
“This was important life safety legislation to help ensure Florida never experiences another Surfside tragedy,” said Allen Douglas, who leads the society and the council.