As the need for structural engineering in Florida continues to grow, it is essential to stay up to date on the current legal and engineering requirements for buildings and condominiums. This blog post will explore the legal perspective and engineering requirements for buildings and condominiums in Florida.
The Florida legislature’s special session held this week resulted in new laws aimed to promote condominium building safety. Senate Bill 4D passed the House of Representatives and Senate each, and was signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis on May 26, 2022.
The legislation comes nearly one year after the devastating partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South residential condominium in Surfside, Florida. Following the tragedy, Florida’s legislature grappled with proposed legislative during the regular session in March 2022, but the condominium building safety laws proposed ultimately were not passed at that time. The special session presented a second, and successful, opportunity to revisit these proposals. The new laws represent statewide and industry-wide efforts to prevent similar tragedies in the future by mandating a variety of preventative measures, including:
- “Milestone inspections” of condominium buildings at least three stories in height must be performed when the structures reaches 30 years since its Certificate of Occupancy and every 10 years thereafter. For similarly situated condominium buildings that are within 3 miles of a coastline, the milestone inspection must be performed when the structure reaches 25 years, and every 10 years thereafter.
- A “structural integrity reserve study” is now required to be performed at least every 10 years after the condominium’s creation for each building on the condominium property that is three stories or higher. The study must include the roof, load bearing walls, floor, foundation, fireproofing and fire protection systems, plumbing, and any item with a deferred maintenance or replacement cost that exceeds $10,000.00.
- Furthermore, Members cannot opt-out of the mandatory funding of reserves for structural integrity components, regardless of a membership vote approving same.
- Requiring inspection reports and studies to be kept as Official Records and available and published to Members.
- Clear developer requirements for building inspections, structural integrity reserve study, and funding requirements prior to transition to the residents.
- Engagement of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and local municipalities to track condominium buildings and the inspection reporting.
While the legislation presents new requirements from the current regulations, it is not the first time that inspections have been required by the Condominium Act. In 2008, House Bill 995 was adopted, requiring inspections for three-story condominium buildings every 5 years, though a majority of voting interest could opt-out of this requirement. That law was later repealed in 2010; at that time, many advocates for repealing the law cited reducing fiscal costs in the wake of the Great Recession.
When does the new law take effect?
An undetected pipe leak.
Forgotten running faucets that spill over onto the floor and beyond.
These types of incidents can be inconvenient and expensive for anyone, but they pose a heightened threat to any of the persons living in the approximately 1.5 million residential condominium units in Florida.
By its nature, condominium ownership requires cooperation and some forfeited freedom of its residents by putting neighbors in close proximity to each other with shared common elements. As summarized by Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal,
[c]ondominium unit owners comprise a little democratic sub society of necessity more restrictive as it pertains to use of condominium property than may be existent outside the condominium organization.”
Hidden Harbour Estates, Inc. v. Norman, 309 So.2d at 181–82. This close proximity of living creates an expanded zone of risk, with the action (or inaction) of one person potentially affecting multiple neighbors.
As a result, unit owners are charged with being more diligent in the use of their units. For example, some condominiums pass rules regarding the frequency of cleaning out dryer vents to reduce the risk of a fire. In a single family residential home, neglecting to change a dryer vent can be done at one’s own risk; in a condominium where a fire can quickly cause widespread destruction to an entire building, that risk is unknowingly being assumed by all of the unit owners – not just the resident who opts to run the dryer for a fifth time instead of folding laundry.
But regardless of the language in governing documents that require owners to maintain their units, or take certain actions and refrain from others, accidents happen. When damage results, who is responsible? More often than not, the answer to the question “who is responsible for fixing this?” is, frustratingly for owners and associations, “it depends.” And it depends on a number of factors.
The 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
Each 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
Condominiums, 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
The 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
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 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
Our team previously wrote about pet restrictions in a 2014 article located here. Nearly six years later, pet restrictions continue to be a breeding ground for confusion, particularly with respect to fair housing and discrimination laws and as those laws relate to recent legislation which took effect in July 2020.
According to statistics provided by The Humane Society of the United States, approximately 67% of all households throughout the United States had a pet based on data collected from 2019-2020. While pets have become a mainstay in most American households, they are not necessarily as common in condominium and homeowners association. The governing documents of many community associations impose limits on the types and number of pets a member or tenant may keep in a unit or home.
These pet restrictions take varying forms; sometimes, the goal is to curtail what are deemed to be aggressive or dangerous breeds as defined by the governing documents. In other instances, a restriction may limit the number of pets a single owner may keep, or may define what types of animals are deemed domesticated and permitted to be kept as a pet at all.
Proceed with caution
During the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us have been forced to incorporate greater use of technology to conduct our business. For many associations, some tasks have been done for the first time using electronic technologies, such as video meetings under the exceptions permitted by the board’s emergency powers.
Conducting business by electronic means can increase efficiency and save paper, money, and storage space. Now that we are all getting used to conducting more business solely by solely electronic means, boards and managers may be wondering what they can do under the law to continue to use technology to operate their associations under “normal” circumstances. Here are some reminders of what is permitted under the Florida Statutes.
E-mail can be used to provide meeting notices only for owners who have consented in writing to accept notices by electronic means and who have provided an email address for that purpose. Meeting notices must also still be posted in a conspicuous place on the property if otherwise required. In addition to mailing, hand delivering or e-mailing notices, an association may adopt a procedure for conspicuously posting and repeatedly broadcasting the notice and agenda on a closed-circuit cable television system serving the association. If used, the broadcast notice and agenda must be broadcast in a manner and sufficient length of time so as to allow an average reader to observe, read and comprehend the entire content.