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?
Senate Bill 4D takes effect upon being signed into law; however, that does not necessarily mean that condominium associations are immediately required to comply with every provision. In recognition of the expense and contracting that will be necessary to implement these changes, the legislature has provided a two-year period of compliance for many of the requirements. For example, Section 553.899, Florida Statutes, provides that condominiums that are within the mandatory milestone inspection period will have until December 31, 2024 to comply with the requirement. This gives condominium associations, and members, some time.
What are some actions associations should consider taking immediately in response the new laws?
Despite the two-year period associations will have to ultimately comply with some of the requirements, their board of directors and members should not delay strategizing how these changes will be implemented. Some immediate measures may be taken, such as amending the annual budget to gradually increase assessments and prepare for the expenses of the mandatory milestone inspections. By starting to build funds for the expenditures now, associations can avoid or reduce collection issues that often follow a hefty special assessment or drastic budget increase later. It is also an opportune time to review collection policies to ensure a streamlined collection process is in place.
Condominium associations should consult with legal counsel and other professionals (including accountants, reserve study professionals, and architects and engineers) as they begin implementing these new laws into practice to receive guidance on the funding, contracting, and scheduling of work to be performed.