Florida officials decide condos must have generators

At least 1 elevator required to have power in disasters

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel
By Joe Kollin
Palm Beach Post Capital Bureau
Saturday, July 1, 2006

High-rise condos must install sprinklers in hallways and lobbies by 2014, and associations must provide a generator for at least one elevator in each building by 2007 so elderly and infirm residents won't again get trapped on upper floors.

Mandatory homeowner associations, meanwhile, can continue operating without a reserve fund to pay emergency cleanup and other expenses. The lack of reserves last year forced many associations to impose huge special assessments on owners.

Over the past several weeks, Gov. Jeb Bush has signed some condo and homeowner association bills passed during the legislative session that ended in May. But he vetoed others, including some pushed by a well-heeled lobbying group representing board members.

"The vetoes were caused by a united effort by individual owners who sent huge amounts of e-mails to the governor," said Jan Bergemann, of DeLand, president of the grass-roots Cyber Citizens for Justice.

Donna Berger, executive director of the Community Association Leadership Lobby, which is made up of thousands of boards that retain the Becker & Poliakoff law firm, blamed Bush's staff for the vetoes.

"Apparently a mix-up in the staff analysis resulted in the gubernatorial veto," she said.

Bush signed new laws that require high-rise condos to have at least one public elevator capable of operating on a generator for at least five days after a disaster. The deadline for complying is Dec. 31, 2007. A second bill reduces from 15 years to 10 years the length of time a condo owner or association can file suit against the builder for construction defects.

Bush vetoed one bill -- HB 391 -- that would have brought major changes to associations. He said he agreed with some provisions but had "serious concerns" with other parts, so he vetoed it all.

He agreed with a provision that would have made it easier for homeowner associations to maintain reserves, but he disagreed with extending from 2014 to 2025 the date that condos must put in sprinklers. He called that an "unacceptable safety risk."

He also disagreed with a provision that would have forced owners of houses in homeowner associations to go to court to resolve disputes instead of continuing to mediate. Mediation, generally done without attorneys, is considered quicker and less costly.

Another bill Bush vetoed -- SB 1556 -- would have made it easier to terminate a condo association, sell the property and split the proceeds after a natural disaster. The changes were designed to prevent having to operate a damaged building when it would be an economic waste. Existing law requires 100 percent of owners to agree to the termination; the bill lowered that to 80 percent.

Bush said the bill "goes too far" and "could deprive condominium unit owners of their rights to remain in their units without adequate procedural safeguards."

In a surprise move, in one of his veto messages Bush suggested the state protect owners in mandatory homeowner association communities at a level equal to condo owners. Creating parity, he conceded, could be complicated because the Legislature two decades ago decided it wanted homeowner associations to be free of the stringent regulations it placed on condos.

State condo law is 93 pages, compared with 30 pages for the homeowner law.

Bush also said the state should consider combining laws for all "common interest communities," which include homeowner associations, condos, co-ops and timeshares. Now, a different state law with different requirements regulates each. He ordered the state Department of Business & Professional Regulation to recommend by Oct. 1 whether they should be combined.