Legislative Session Preview: Vicki Lopez unveils ‘Condo 3.0’ proposal to shore up building safety, board accountability

Vicki Lopez -- Florida House
‘There are still all kinds of problems.’

Since winning her House seat in 2022, Rep. Vicki Lopez has made it part of her legislative mission to improve regulations of residential towers in Florida to ensure there isn’t another tragedy like the condo collapse in Surfside.

Her work helped lead to a voluminous legislative package in 2023 that improved on measures lawmakers passed the year before to boost condominium safety, supervision and oversight.

But the changes weren’t enough, according to Lopez, a Miami Republican who spoke with Florida Politics to preview new legislation she believes will shore up many of the remaining deficiencies.

She called the measure “Condo 3.0.”

The bill (HB 1021), which Lopez described as “very lengthy” and the product of listening sessions she and Fleming Island Sen. Jennifer Bradley conducted over the summer, was filed Dec. 22. A similar measure by Bradley (SB 1178) was filed Jan. 2 and includes a co-sponsorship credit for Miami Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo.

“We learned there are still all kinds of problems, from transparency issues with condo boards and the owners, governance issues between access to records and elections, and financial accountability, a big issue,” Lopez said. “We also found that we needed to address issues related to conflicts of interest, hurricane protection and proper record keeping.”

Another major problem, the lawmakers learned, is that the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) now has little to no jurisdiction on those issues and others concerning condo safety once a developer turns control of a building over to owners and their board.

It’s an issue former Condominium Ombudsman Spencer Hennings discussed with lawmakers in November. He said the way Florida statutes are now written, wrongdoers on condo and homeowners association boards have wide loopholes to evade punishment or removal, rendering the DBPR and other agencies under whose purview residential collectives fall “toothless” in holding them accountable.

Lopez said her bill aims to correct that.

“We recognized that we needed to ensure DBPR has sufficient resources and jurisdiction in order to regulate condominiums in Florida. This bill is a pretty big piece of legislation that is going to address so many of the concerns we heard from both the community and a pair of reports (on the matter) from 2007 and 2016,” she said. “Many of those concerns are still relevant today, which is kind of frightening.”

Among other things, she said, the bill would:

— Delete a sentence from state statutes limiting DBPR’s ability to enforce condo regulations after the developer turns a building over to the owners.

— Empower DBPR employees to attend condo board meetings, something not currently allowed, and require the agency to refer to law enforcement any actor it believes is involved in fraud or theft. “We want to say you’re going to be open to the people who are regulating you,” Lopez said.

— Require DBPR to conduct random audits of condo boards and associations to ensure they comply with all state strictures and submit regular reviews and recommendations to the Legislature.

— Reduce the number of units in a building necessary to require that a condo board operate and maintain a website with records for owners from 150 to 25.

— Require condo boards to have more meetings — at least four per year — to enable owners to meet with board members, ask questions and give feedback, among other things.

— Update disclosure requirements to address conflicts of interest. Lopez said some condo board members and owners are now in “adversarial positions” because board members are “giving business to their relatives and partners.”

— Provide criminal penalties for malfeasance, including a first-degree misdemeanor for some first offenses up to a third-degree felony.

— Correct a “glitch” in the most recently passed condo safety bill (SB 154) dealing with transparency. The fix, Lopez said, will guarantee unit owners can obtain a copy of a building’s structural integrity reserve study within 45 days of its completion. “I thought we had done that in Senate Bill 154,” she said, “but we only required that of the master inspection.”

— Create criminal penalties for fraud in condo board elections equal to existing penalties for other types of election fraud in Florida.

— Provide a to-be-determined budgetary earmark to effect these and other changes.

Lopez is also sponsoring a measure (HB 1029) with Parkland Democratic Rep. Christine Hunschofksy to create a pilot program through which condo owners and associations can take advantage of home-hardening grants available to single-family homes and townhouse owners through the My Safe Florida Home program.

“It’s a separate bill,” she said. “But it’s part of what I’m trying to do to help lower the cost of insurance for some of these buildings on the coastline where the higher risk is.”

The partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside on June 24, 2021, resulted in the deaths of 98 people, making it the third-deadliest non-deliberate structural engineering failure in United States history. In its aftermath, Florida lawmakers scrambled to enact new regulatory and oversight measures to prevent another similar tragedy. Image via AP.

Another bill (HB 893) deals with Citizens Property Insurance, Florida’s insurer of last resort, which began offloading hundreds of thousands of policyholders onto private insurance companies as part of a “depopulation” initiative Insurance Commissioner Michael Yaworsky approved on July 31.

Lopez’s bill (HB 893) would require Citizens to develop new eligibility criteria and rates for policies that provide wind-only coverage. Such policies are only available today in “wind-eligible areas” identified by a state-created commission in 1997.

But the Commission’s work was faulty. Lopez said that rather than assess which parts of the state were at most significant risk for wind-damaged property, the Commission merely surveyed residents about whether they wanted a wind-only coverage option and drew a map reflecting their answers.

Nearly a quarter of a century later, many areas — including Hillsborough County, Martin County, the Panhandle and the Big Bend region, which Hurricane Idalia ravaged in late August — are not currently “wind-eligible.”

“My bill would direct Citizens — and I’ve been working with them on a very collaborative basis — to amend those wind-eligible areas by developing criteria and the rates for policies exclusively covering wind, which would have to be approved by (the Office of Insurance Regulation) before they bring them back to the Legislature,” she said.

“I’m excited about this because it will help areas that really are wind-eligible but may not have been included to get wind policies, which are the most expensive policies.”

Lopez is also bringing back a bill she highlighted ahead of the 2023 Legislative Session dealing with illicit massage parlors, which can be hotbeds for human trafficking. She said the original measure hit a snag with the Department of Health (DOH), but that has now been resolved in the current bill (HB 197), which is currently advancing in the Legislature.

As was the case last Session, Fort Myers Republican Sen. Jonathan Martin is carrying a comparable companion bill (SB 896).

If passed, HB 197 would give local governments and the DOH additional authority to shut down massage parlors that house human trafficking and illegal sex operations. It would also increase record-keeping requirements and, among other things, mandate that massage businesses with storefronts have front windows allowing at least 35% light penetration.

“We’re the third-largest state where human trafficking takes place, and the three biggest areas are Tampa, Orlando and Miami — no surprise to anyone there. But this problem even exists in Collier County, where they have more illicit establishments than legitimate ones,” she said. “They’re spreading like wildfire, and the Department of Health and local government authorities really need help to shut them down.”

Other measures Lopez is prioritizing in 2024 include HB 83, which would reauthorize Florida’s Inmate Welfare Trust Fund to fund prisoner reentry services through 2028, and HM 467, which would urge U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to reinstate economic sanctions on the dictatorial regime of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and companies that do business with it.

“In my district, we have a lot of residents who are in an uproar (about Venezuela). They’re now trying to invade Guyana for their oil, and they’ve issued a criminal indictment against the enemy candidate that was up against Maduro,” she said. “So, I’m thinking now is not a time for us to lift sanctions on Venezuela.”

Bradley has filed an identical companion (SB 520) to HB 83, while Miami Springs Republican Sen. Bryan Ávila carries a twin (SM 398) to HM 467.

The 2024 Legislative Session commences Jan. 9 and runs through March 8.


Editor’s note: This report has been updated to include additional links to bills Lopez discussed.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

One comment

  • My Take

    January 3, 2024 at 9:38 pm

    Has anyome competently determimed and reported why the Miami condo collapsed.
    Not PR drivel like at first: “Things deteriorate” (there sre still Roman bridges in active use). Or nonsense: “Sea level rise, rising water table” (are all our bridges consigned to fall?).
    What exactly failed?
    Lousy construction and construction inspection is my sad suspicion as ultimate cause.

Comments are closed.


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