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.