Florida gov signs condo safety bill after building collapse
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida will require statewide recertification of condominiums over three stories tall under new legislation Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law Thursday as a response to the Surfside building collapse that killed 98 people.
But while the measure was hailed by lawmakers, the senator who represents Surfside, Democrat Jason Pizzo, warns there’s a lot more to do — and the state doesn’t have enough structural engineers to handle the workload required to make sure all the state’s high-rise condominiums are safe.
“Tell your nieces and daughters and sons to go study engineering,” Pizzo said.
The governor’s signature came the day after the House unanimously passed the bill during a special session originally called to address skyrocketing property insurance rates. The condominium safety bill was added to the agenda Tuesday and immediately passed by the Senate.
Recertification will be required after 30 years, or 25 years if the building is within 3 miles (5 kilometers) of the coast, and every 10 years thereafter. The Champlain Towers South was 40 years old and was going through the 40-year-recertification process required by Miami-Dade County when it collapsed last June.
At the time, Miami-Dade and Broward counties were the only two of the state’s 67 that had condominium recertification programs.
There are more than 1.5 million condominium units in Florida operated by nearly 28,000 associations, according to a legislative analysis conducted earlier this year, Of those, more than 912,000 are older than 30 years and are the home to more than 2 million residents.
Pizzo said there are about 650 certified structural engineers in Florida. And there’s a high demand for them on new construction alone. Most of the provisions of the law will take effect in 2024, so there is some time to prepare, Pizzo said.
“We’re going to be back in regular session at least one more time before any of this really kicks in, which gives ample time to tweak, amend, hear from the public and people on the ground,” said Pizzo, who is hosting a public forum on the new law with other legislators next month.
He said that the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation doesn’t have enough staff to handle condo regulation.
“They’re operating on bare bones,” he said. “When it comes to life safety issues, I’m just not comfortable that the same agency that licenses manicurists are also licensing engineers for buildings … They need to be well resourced.”
The bill would require that condominium associations have sufficient reserves to pay for major repairs and conduct a study of the reserves every decade. It would also require condominium associations to provide inspection reports to owners, and if structural repairs are needed, work must begin within a year of the report.
Similar legislation failed during the regular session that ended in March.
Meanwhile, a final settlement agreement is expected Friday that will pay at least $96 million to homeowners with condos in the Surfside building but whose families suffered no loss of life.
The condominium legislation was attached to a bill that would forbid insurers from automatically denying coverage because of a roof’s age if the roof is less than 15 years old. Homeowners with roofs 15 years or older would be allowed to get an inspection before insurers deny them coverage.
While some Democratic lawmakers complained that the special session on insurance didn’t go far enough to help relieve homeowners, they did praise the addition of the condominium safety legislation.