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Condominium Law and Policy on Life Safety Task Force gathers information

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RPPTL logoA Real Property, Probate and Trust Law task force has been meeting weekly with architects, structural engineers, and other experts as it weighs recommendations for responding to the deadly Champlain Towers condominium collapse.

The Condominium Law and Policy on Life Safety Task Force will continue receiving presentations from various professionals in the coming weeks, said task force member Joseph Adams, office managing shareholder with Becker Poliakoff in Ft. Myers.

“We’re hearing from outside experts in a variety of fields that would be relevant to the types of legal questions that the Legislature and executive branch might want our assistance with,” Adams said. “We are proceeding with substantial diligence.”

At its last meeting, the task force received a presentation by Thomas A. Grogan, Jr., who heads a licensing committee for the Florida Structural Engineers Association.

“We learned about what structural engineers do, issues about credentialing, issues about the types of reports that might be available more generally,” Adams said.

The association has been lobbying for the creation of a structural engineering license in Florida since 2007. Architects design buildings and engineers sign off on their safety — but they are not required to be licensed structural engineers.

In his presentation to the task force, Grogan contended that a separate structural engineering license requirement in Florida would better protect the public from a “decrease in engineering education requirements,” the use of advanced design software by “less qualified” engineers and “inadequate structural plan reviews.”

The presentation showed that over the past 30 years, 275 licensed professional engineers have been disciplined by the Florida Board of Professional Engineers for practicing structural engineering outside of their area of competency.

Florida lawmakers passed a structural engineering licensing requirement in 2015, but former Gov. Rick Scott vetoed it, saying he was concerned about the impact on currently licensed engineers.

Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, sponsored a structural engineering licensing measure (HB 931) earlier this year, but it died in the House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee on April 30.

The volunteer board that served Champlain Towers South commissioned a structural engineering report that recommended $15 million in repairs. The report was prompted by a Florida law that requires residential high-rises to undergo a reinspection after 40 years.

But the law only applies to Miami-Dade and Broward counties and has come under intense scrutiny since the Surfside tragedy.

According to the state Division of Condominiums, Time Shares and Mobile Homes, there are 912,000 condominium units in Florida that are 30 years or older, and home to some 2 million residents.

Grogan told the task force that his association is studying the reinspection issue, Adams said.

The task force will likely make a recommendation regarding the reinspection issue when it completes its work, Adams said.

“The frequency of these inspections is clearly on the table and I don’t think there’s any doubt the possibility of them being on a statewide basis is going to be discussed,” he said.

Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Miami and a former prosecutor whose district includes Surfside, has vowed to file a reinspection bill.

Adams is co-chair of the RPPTL section’s Condominium and Planned Development Committee. Committee Co-Chair Margaret Ann “Peggy” Rolando, a partner with Shutts & Bowen, is also a task force member.

The committee formed the task force, in conjunction with section leadership, after the Surfside tower collapsed June 24, killing 98 men, women and children.

The task force has given itself a 90-day deadline to make recommendations to Gov. Ron DeSantis and lawmakers in time for the September 20 start of interim legislative committee meetings ahead of the January legislative session.

The task force is chaired by University of Miami School of Law adjunct Prof. William Sklar. Of counsel with Carlton Fields, Sklar is past chair of the section’s Condominium and Planned Development Committee.

Sklar said the task force mission is to determine “if there are any amendments or changes to the existing law that would either prevent or minimize the likelihood of another tragedy like Surfside Champlain Towers South.”

The task force intends to focus, among other things, on how volunteer condominium boards function, manage their reserves, and communicate with residents.

The Condominium and Planned Development Committee is also working on a project to produce educational materials that could help condominium boards and residents.

The task force will compile a comprehensive report identifying key issues and recommendations but sees itself only as a legal resource for policy makers, Adams said.

“We’re not approaching this to advocate any point of view,” Adams said. “We’re trying to basically provide a service to our state government, both the executive and legislative branches, as probably the best resource on what the condominium laws are.”

The task force next expects to hear from insurance industry representatives. It also expects to receive presentations from community associations, accountants, municipal building officials, the Florida League of Cities, and others, Adams said.

The task force is making good progress, but it’s too early to discuss recommendations, Adams said.

“I think the next milestone is the completion of the presentations from the outside experts and commentators, and then we’re going to probably have a couple of meetings where we come to some final issue identification and positions, and then draft the report, obviously, those things may move somewhat in tandem,” he said. “We may identify issues where we don’t really have a recommendation, but we feel that it would be helpful to identify them.”

 

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