Lawmakers unanimously passed a bill to require stricter inspections for condominiums Wednesday, one day after legislative leaders reached a deal in response to the deadly condo collapse in Surfside last year.
After the Senate passed the language on Tuesday as part of building code legislation (SB 4D) that was making its way through the property insurance Special Session, the House took up the bill Wednesday and expressed mutual praise for the agreement.
Miami Republican Rep. Daniel Perez filed the legislation Tuesday afternoon, 11 months after the Champlain Towers South collapsed in Surfside. The 88-page bill is the culmination of months of work by legislative leaders and local lawmakers.
“People talk about coming to Tallahassee and it being too political, but this is real policy with real change affecting real families in the past but also in the future,” Perez told members before the final vote. “So, when you guys leave this chamber today, do it with your head up high, because you’re doing something that most people can only dream of. You’re making real change.”
The language is mostly a product pushed by the Senate during this year’s Regular Session that died during a ping-pong of negotiations at the end of the Session. Ahead of the Special Session on property insurance, negotiations picked up where the Senate left off in March, with stronger condo inspection requirements that the chamber passed unanimously plus a maintenance reserve requirement for condo associations.
Per the legislation, condo buildings at least three stories tall within three miles of the coast would have to be inspected when the buildings reach 25 years of age. Those more than three miles inland would be inspected at 30 years. After the initial “milestone” inspection, the buildings would need an inspection every 10 years. The legislation also includes transparency measures so inspection records are made available to buyers, renters and unit owners.
Additionally, at the House’s request, the legislation also prevents condo associations from waiving maintenance reserve funds.
The deal on Tuesday also coincided with a ruling in Miami-Dade County to increase the payout available to the people who owned condos in the building, which collapsed June 24.
Gov. Ron DeSantis had summoned lawmakers to Tallahassee to address a looming property insurance crisis this week. Lawmakers returning to Tallahassee to address a topic adjacent to condo inspections served as a catalyst to reach a final deal.
Negotiations initially fell apart in the waning hours of the Regular Session in March, when the Senate insisted on stronger condo inspections and the House insisted on the reserve fund requirement. Travis Moore, a lobbyist who has been advocating for stronger condo inspection measures since the day of the collapse, told Florida Politics he began pushing for lawmakers to revisit condo inspections during the Special Session when he concluded that the desired legislation was closely related to building code issues.
After the vote, House Speaker Chris Sprowls praised Perez for holding his ground on the legislation at the end of the Regular Session.
“As we came out of last Session with the Surfside bill, the politically expedient thing for you to have done was to get a bill, even if it was a bill that you didn’t believe was the right product or make people safer,” Sprowls told members. “I know you got a lot of flak when you went home, but you were zoned in on what would be best for people in Florida, and because you did that, people in the state of Florida are safer because of your efforts.”
Aventura Democratic Rep. Joe Geller, whose district includes the site of the collapsed Champlain Towers South condo, similarly lauded Perez. And the fourth-term Representative noted it would likely be his final vote as a state lawmaker.
“If this is the last vote that I ever take as a member of this House, it might be the proudest, and that’s not to take a thing away from what Rep. (Mike) Grieco said about trying to get ahead of these things,” Geller said.
Grieco, a Miami Beach Democrat whose district abuts the destroyed plot, also won’t be returning to the House as he eyes a bid for the Senate. He implored members to not wait for tragedy to strike to address future issues.
“I’ve used the term fake hustle before and I talk about how we’re really good at responding to things, but maybe it’s time to be a little bit more proactive on issues,” he said.
The measure received support from the Florida Engineering Society and American Council of Engineering Companies of Florida, which was part of the Surfside Working Group and helped develop the recommendations following the Champlain Towers South collapse.
“The importance of this legislation cannot be overstated. The periodic inspections of condos will help ensure that all Floridians can rest at night knowing that their building, particularly older condos, are structurally sound. This legislation is good for Floridians, and good for Florida,” said the organization’s executive director, Allen Douglas.
The bill, which would take effect immediately, will next head to DeSantis for his signature.