CondoThe devastating collapse of one of the Champlain Towers South 12-story beachfront residential condominium towers in Surfside, Florida, has prompted officials at the local, state, and federal level to assess what precautions should be taken – or mandated – to prevent similar tragedies. At present, the cause of the collapse is still unknown.

In the wake of the collapse, however, a past engineering report has resurfaced which indicates that the tower had “major structural damage” as of October 2018. The same report concluded that the necessary repair work would be extremely expensive and create a significant disruption for residents. Whether the association acted upon this information reasonably will, unfortunately, be the source of litigation for months and years to come and has caused many condominium associations throughout the state to look in the mirror.

What are associations required to do to avoid a tragedy like Champlain Towers? What should associations do, even if not required by law?

Florida’s Condominium Act addresses engineering reports and warranties to be made by developers of a residential condominium, generally at the time of building or at such time that control of the association transitions to the members. However, there are few, if any, mandates at the state level as to a continued obligation to inspect the structural integrity of buildings. Politicians and residents throughout Florida have called on the state to enact mandatory requirements for building recertification, but Governor Ron DeSantis has not committed to any state action to that effect.

Through the efforts of advocacy groups and industry leaders such as CAI and Florida’s Real Property, Probate, Trust and Litigation Section, which has appointed a Condominium Law & Policy Life Safety Advisory Task Force, it is possible that future legislative sessions will see proposed laws aimed to prevent or minimize the likelihood of similar tragedies. In the absence of such legislation, though, condominium associations are guided primarily by local ordinances (to the extent they exist), and the business judgment of the board of directors.

Continue Reading Condominium associations react to tragedy in Surfside, Florida

land developmentIn 1995, the Florida Legislature took bold steps to protect private property rights by enacting the Bert J. Harris, Jr. Private Property Rights Protection Act, better known as the Bert Harris Act. The Act created a new cause of action for private property owners whose real property is burdened by government action, such as a new ordinance or regulation that limits development of a piece of property. The Act gave private property owners peace of mind when it comes to being able to use and develop their property the way they want to.

During the 2021 legislative session, the Florida Legislature took steps to strengthen the Bert Harris Act in favor of private property owners through HB 421/1101.

Procedurally, the bill passed both the House and Senate chambers, but has not yet been signed by the Governor.

What impact will this bill have on Florida landowners?

Continue Reading New Legislation Designed to Relieve the Burden on Landowners Filing Bert Harris Claims

Hurricane Season AheadEach year, the months of June to November keep property owners across the State of Florida a bit on edge when storms begin brewing out in the Gulf and the Atlantic. This past weekend tropical depression Claudette kicked off the 2021 hurricane season, signaling to property owners across the state that it is time to begin making the necessary preparations in advance of potential storms. In addition to stocking up on batteries, plywood, and water, property owners should be aware of potential legal consequences resulting from a hurricane or tropical storm.

Damage to land

The first and perhaps most readily apparent of these consequences is when a hurricane causes a sudden change to the shoreline otherwise known as avulsion. The United States Supreme Court defined avulsion as:

the sudden or perceptible loss of or addition to the land by the action of the water or a sudden change in the bed of a lake or the course of a stream.”

Hurricanes are considered avulsive events under Florida law, which – unlike other erosion events (such as accretion or reliction which are more gradual) – preserves the property boundary at the mean high water mark existing prior to the storm. In the aftermath of a hurricane which causes a sudden loss of the shoreline, that boundary remains the same, entitling the State to reclaim or back fill that portion of the beach to ensure that the public right of access is not cut off.

Beachfront owners should be cognizant of the location of the mean high water mark or any coastal construction control line. After a storm passes, this will allow beachfront owners to better understand how the storm impacted their property boundary, and whether the State has any rights to backfill a portion of the beach that was lost.

Purchasing property in hurricane season

Continue Reading Preparing for a Storm: Legal Considerations for Property Owners during Hurricane Season

Naples FL CondoCondominiums, cooperatives, and homeowners associations will see many changes to their operations following the new laws borne from Florida’s 2021 legislative session. Among these changes are new laws governing rental restrictions in homeowners associations in Senate Bill 630. The bill, which passed both the House and Senate, is anticipated to be signed into law by Governor DeSantis and will have an effective date of July 1, 2021.

The new law reflects the homeowners association’s corollary to rental restrictions which have been in Chapter 718 (the “Condominium Act”) since 2004. In summary, the new law will implement that following changes affecting how and against whom rental restrictions may be enforced in homeowners associations: Continue Reading New laws prompt HOAs to examine – and quickly change – rental restrictions in advance of July 1, 2021 effective date

Gated CommunityThe 2021 Florida Legislative session, which ended on April 30, 2021, was an active one for proposed community association legislation.

The following community association-related bills have either been signed into law or have passed the House and Senate and are pending signature by Governor DeSantis, with anticipated effective dates provided: Continue Reading 2021 Florida legislative session brings significant changes to community association laws

bitcoin graphI am sure that by now most people have heard the news stories and social media posts about people becoming rich overnight simply by acquiring and often forgetting about Bitcoin and other forms of cryptocurrency in recent years. Those viral stories of individuals getting lucky or unwittingly stumbling into fortunes are entertaining reads, but the reality is that cryptocurrency has become a legitimate investment opportunity attracting the attention of large institutional investors and influential CEOs such as Elon Musk, who are taking advantage of the tremendous growth of Bitcoin and other coins to enhance personal and corporate profits.

If you were one of those lucky individuals who bought into Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies early or are a savvy investor who realized profits through the highs and lows of the market, you may be wondering how you can turn those gains into tangible assets such as real estate. Similarly, for those involved in real estate transactions, this new technology creates challenges for the parties involved who attempt to navigate a largely unregulated area of the law, while also attempting to apply current regulations to crypto transactions.

Crypto only real estate transactions

buying real estate with bitcoinThere are two primary ways in which crypto-based real estate transactions can be structured. The first is purchasing the property using unconverted cryptocurrency. At the present time, this may not be feasible in most instances since many sellers, closing agents, brokers, and other parties involved in the transaction may be reluctant to accept cryptocurrency that is not converted into U.S. Dollars. Their reluctance is well founded as the price of Bitcoin and other coins, unlike securities, fluctuates constantly, even outside of business hours. This may lead to risk intolerant sellers from accepting cryptocurrency offers and entering into contracts. If the price of a particular coin were to plummet, the buyer may not have sufficient funds to proceed with the sale.

Continue Reading Buying Real Estate with Bitcoin

Florida boasts the longest coastline in the contiguous United States, and “waterfront” property, for many, is one of the most desirous features of real estate in Florida. Ownership of waterfront property that abuts navigable bodies of water (i.e., waters which, by reason of their size, depth, and other conditions are navigable for useful public purposes) also carries with it certain riparian or littoral rights, including the right to construct a dock, pier or wharf. (In this article, I will use the term “riparian” broadly, to include both riparian and littoral rights, as consistent with customary usage in Florida courts.)

What happens when a property owner’s waterfront rights interfere those of an adjoining property owner?

In the case of 5F, LLC v. Hawthorne, 2D19-2574, the Florida Second District Court of Appeals answered this question in a decision issued on February 26, 2021. As of the writing of this article, there is a pending motion for rehearing, so the ultimate disposition of the case is not yet final.

Continue Reading Florida Appeals Court Rules in Favor of Waterfront Property Owner, Despite Neighbor’s Objection and Demand for Payment

Earlier this week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed S.B. 72 into law, which grants some civil immunity to business entities against plaintiffs bringing COVID-19 injury and wrongful death claims. A review of the impact S.B. 72 has on business entities and civil claims is provided by my colleague and litigation attorney Heath Gelman here. The bill applies to “certain business entities,” in recognition of the public interest as a whole served by

providing relief to these business … so that they may remain viable and continue to contribute to this state.”

Among other types of businesses included in the definition of “business entities” are corporations not-for-profit under Sec. 617.01401, Fla. Stat. Based on a plain reading of the law, this would include condominium and homeowners’ associations, although it remains to be seen how the application of the law will be interpreted as it percolates in Florida courts.

Sigh of relief

Continue Reading New COVID-19 Civil Immunity Law Provides Relief to Florida Condo and HOAs

Henderson Franklin was honored to sponsor 2021 Market Trends, which took place on March 9, 2021, with speakers Randy Thibaut, founder of Land Solutions, Inc., Denny Grimes, President of Denny Grimes & Team at Keller Williams Realty, and Stan Stouder, founding partner of CRE Consultants, LLC. The presentation discussed the real estate market over the last year in Southwest Florida. The following provides a summary of the event and what the speakers forecast the market to look like in the coming year. The report focused on three areas of the market: new construction, the resale sector, and commercial real estate.

Overall, 2020 saw sluggish growth in the first part of the year, as the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic injected fear into the market. The second half of the year saw tremendous rebounds in the residential sector. These rebounds were largely due to increasingly stringent and long-lasting shutdowns in Northern states, which brought thousands of new homebuyers to Southwest Florida.

New Construction Residential Market

In terms of the new construction market, 2020 saw an initial dip in the early part of the year, but, overall, the total number of new building permits amongst Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties increased an average of 16% across the board. Charlotte County saw the most growth with a 28% increase in new building permits.

Individual communities are also seeing tremendous growth. Leading the way in Southwest Florida was Babcock Ranch with 533 new building permits issued to various builders in 2020. However, prices for new construction, along with rent prices, rose throughout 2020, indicating that supply cannot match demand.

Continue Reading The State of Southwest Florida Real Estate – A Recap of 2021 Market Trends

It is hardly a secret that one of the many draws of Southwest Florida is the accessibility of owning property along the beaches, rivers, and canals that make the area paradise for residents and visitors alike. Waterfront ownership, or littoral ownership, comes with a unique set of rights, such as the right to access and construct improvements on the water. These rights however are not absolute, as various other stakeholders and environmental interests possess similar rights.

What Regulations Apply to Construction of Waterfront Structures?

In terms of constructing improvements such as docks, boatlifts, piers and other artificial structures, the State and County governments have developed legal regimes designed to balance these competing interests and effectively manage the aquatic resources of the State. These statutes and regulations are often difficult to navigate for homeowners and developers unfamiliar with the specific characteristics of waterfront ownership. Careful attention to these statutes and regulations must be paid in order to avoid fines, construction delays, or even being required to remove non-conforming structures.

What Laws Apply to My Property?

Continue Reading Construction of Docks, Piers, and Other Waterfront Structures in Southwest Florida