Courtesy of The Florida Phoenix
Published February 14, 2022
Aging condos in Florida should be certified as safe every
three years, not every 10 and certainly not every 40 as required in current
law, said an executive with the finance company that warned of impending
disaster before the June 2021 collapse of a 12-story condo in Surfside.
Ninety-eight people were killed in the disaster.
“We were part of the team of experts that tried to sound the alarm about
what was going on in that property, but as we all now know, that message was
received too late,” said Will Simons, president of the Miami-based regional
office of Association Reserves, in testimony given Thursday to the House
Committee on Pandemics and Public Emergencies.
Reserves are funds collected over time from homeowners in multi-residential
housing to pay for necessary repairs and maintenance. In the collapse of the
Champlain Towers South condo in Surfside, near Miami, investigators are
looking into whether such funds were not properly collected and spent as
needed to keep the 40-year-old building safe.
Simons testified that his company’s 2020 reserve study, which he said is the
only one ever conducted on Champlain Towers, pointed to alarming
discrepancies between what should have been spent on repairs and maintenance
and how funds were spent instead.
“The bill proposes that reserve studies be conducted at least every 10
years, which is not nearly often enough,” Simons told the committee.
“Waiting 10 years between updates will allow associations to drift off
course financially, only to find out much too late that what they’ve been
doing has not been enough.”
Proposed Committee Bill 22-03, shepherded by Committee Chair Daniel Perez, a
Dade County Republican, calls for more frequent inspections and
certifications of condos, with special focus on those within three miles of
a coastline. But it fails to require review of condo associations’ financial
health by experts in that field, Simons said.
In describing the bill, Perez said he wanted it to focus on review of
structural deficiencies by engineers and architects. “That’s not the same as
the budgeting and cash-flow skill set, a combination of building sciences
and finance, to prepare reserve studies,” Simons countered.
PCB PPE 22-03 also calls for reports to be submitted to local building
officials, unit owners and prospective buyers, among other things.
Several committee members said they want to see the bill strengthened
further as it advances in the Legislature, and Perez said he is open to
ideas. For now, they passed it as proposed, 17-0.
In the Senate, SB 1702 and SB 7042 contain similar measures and are
Meanwhile, Sen. Travis Hutson’s SB 736 moves in a different direction and
has moved furthest in the legislative process. Hutson’s bill would allow
homeowners only five years, rather than the current 10 years, to file claims
against builders for “construction defects” in their homes. Homebuilders and
contractors testifed in favor of the bill, saying it would curb lawsuits
against them and hold down their insurance rates.
Update: Later Thursday, the Senate amended Hutson’s bill to reduce the time
period for filing a defects claim to seven years rather than five.
In testimony on Jan. 13, a survivor of the Champlain Towers condo collapse
and a representative of the Florida Homeowners Association denounced the
bill, saying “latent” or long-term defects do not become evident for many
years. Curtailing the time period will leave some builders with no liability
and many homeowners with no recourse, they said in separate testimony.
“After such a horrific tragedy, we expect proposed bills that do the exact
opposite of Senate Bill 736,” said Martin Langesfeld, whose sister and her
husband died in the condo collapse. “The only ones benefiting from this bill
are developers and insurance companies.”
Homeowners Association spokesman Rick Nutter itestified on Jan. 13: “[SB
736] will essentially make Florida the least consumer-friendly state in the
nation, with this type of five-year bar that will absolutely prohibit a
homeowner from any recourse on what’s typically their largest investment.”