Florida used to encourage more condo inspections and repair plans – NBC 6 South Florida
The laws on condominium associations have been scrutinized since the collapse of the Champlain South towers. NBC 6 and NBC News obtained internal documents from the condominium association showing the council was pursuing more than $ 16 million in repairs but had less than $ 800,000 in its reserve fund.
This is why the association of co-owners mobilized residents to pay a special contribution of $ 110,000 on average per owner for repairs. The first payment was due when the building collapsed.
In 2008, Florida lawmakers passed legislation to encourage condominium associations to inspect and establish a repair plan, commonly referred to as a “reserve study,” every five years.
State lawmakers overwhelmingly repealed the law two years later.
Former state lawmaker Julio Robaina introduced HB 995 in 2008, which stipulated that every five years associations “must have the condominium inspected to provide a report under the seal of an architect. or an engineer licensed to practice in that State certifying the required maintenance, useful life and common component replacement costs.
Robaina’s bill was passed unanimously by Florida and the Senate. It was then promulgated by then Republican Governor Charlie Crist, who now serves Florida’s 13th Congressional District and is running for governor as a Democrat.
Robaina told NBC 6 that the law was intended to bring in expert analysis to recommend necessary repairs. His bill allowed associations to step down temporarily with a majority vote, but the goal, he said, was to prevent condominium boards from throwing problems later.
“Unfortunately, there is too much money in the associative world. You talk about buildings that have a budget of one million dollars a month. You have them with budgets of $ 5,000 per month. Money is too tempting, ”said Robaina.
Two years later, Robaina was on a limited term out of the legislature, and lawmakers passed a 102-page bill on the reform of community associations. In this bill, HB 663, two lines hidden deep in the bill repealed the section requiring quinquennial inspections and reserve studies.
Robaina told NBC 6 that lawyers for the condo association and industry groups have advocated for the change. Lawmakers at the time, he said, may not even have realized the law had been repealed.
“Unfortunately, a lot of these members don’t read the bills. Basically they come up and say, “What does that do?” ‘Oh don’t worry, this is awesome’ and it is. This is the reality, ”said Robaina.
The 2010 repeal bill passed 111-3 at Florida House, 39-0 in the Senate. It was promulgated by the then governor, Crist.
The sponsor of the 2010 bill was then the state representative, Gary Aubuchon. NBC News and NBC 6 contacted him by email and phone to learn more about the repeal and have not had a response.
In a statement, Representative Charlie Crist did not comment on the 2008 or 2010 laws, but said state lawmakers should review security measures.
“My heart continues to be with the victims and families of those affected by the Surfside Building collapse. This tragic accident could have been avoided and will forever mark a dark chapter in Florida history. The fact that the needed repairs to Surfside have been known since 2018 makes it clear that we need to do more to protect Floridians. I call on the legislature and Governor DeSantis to take swift action and pass new building regulations and safety measures that will require extensive inspections of tall buildings, as well as the creation of loan options to low cost for the structural repairs needed, to ensure the safety and livelihoods of all Floridians, ”he said.
There were six co-sponsors of the 2010 law, Republicans and Democrats, including three from Southeast Florida: Hazelle Rogers, Steve Bovo and Elaine Schwartz.
Bovo, who is now running for mayor of Hialeah, sent a statement to NBC 6: “We are all still grieving for the tragedy facing the families of Surfside. There will be an investigation to determine what exactly caused the building to collapse. Unfortunately, in the meantime there will be speculation and unfortunately due to the nature of our current politics some in the media will be quick to point fingers. The bill you are quoting dates from eleven years ago, was passed by the Florida House with 111 yes votes and only 3 no votes, and unanimously in the Florida Senate (39 to 0). This bill did not cause the recent tragedy in our community. In the coming months, state and county policymakers will uncover the cause of the building collapse and hopefully work in a unified, bipartisan fashion to adopt policies to prevent such a tragedy from happening again. in the future.
NBC 6 contacted Hazelle Rogers, who is now mayor of the city of Lauderdale Lakes, and Elaine Schwartz, a lawyer who is no longer in politics. We haven’t heard back yet.
Earlier this week, the Florida Bar announced it was starting a review of state condominium laws to make recommendations to state lawmakers. So far, the state’s governor and legislative leaders have said they want to know more about what led to the collapse before proposing specific changes.
Florida law requires condominium associations to have reserves for projects over $ 10,000, but is aligned with the majority of states that do not require experts to inspect and detail how best to use. reserves. Only nine states require reserve studies.
“There are communities that reach the age of 40 or 50 that require higher maintenance, higher levels of component replacement,” said Thomas Skiba, CEO of the Community Association Institute (CAI).
CAI conducted a survey called “Breaking Point” which examines aging infrastructure in community associations. They found that half of the residents surveyed believed their community had sufficient reserves, writing “by postponing inspections, studies of reserves and, ultimately, full repairs to renovations, councils often find themselves faced with challenges. an exponentially more complete and costly project in the long term ”.
Experts pointed out that Champlain Towers South’s board of directors relied on special assessments – additional fees on top of residents’ normal monthly payments – to fund needed repairs. The council imposed a special assessment of $ 1 million in 2016 for hallway renovations and a special assessment of $ 350,000 in 2019 for work on a generator, gas pump and fuel tank. Such lump-sum levies are indicative of a building whose owners have decided not to set aside enough reserves through regular monthly fees, choosing instead to wait until expensive repairs are needed to ask residents to pay. for this, said experts. Many associations make this choice by voting several times to renounce or reduce the funding of their reserves.
Maxwell Marcucci, spokesperson for the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association, declined to comment on the studies on reserves. In a previous statement to NBC News, he said the condominium board was doing their best to keep the building safe. “They are not engineers or building safety experts,” Marcucci said. “They hired experts, trusted experts, and at no point did the experts indicate that there was a threat of imminent collapse.”
Marcuccci declined our request for a camera interview, citing an ongoing litigation.