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Condominium reform measures being introduced

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CapitolFive months after the Champlain Towers South collapse claimed 98 lives in Surfside, a bipartisan effort to reform condominium laws is beginning to take shape.

Various measures filed so far would require state regulators to create a searchable database of association records, including engineering reports, and impose stricter education requirements for board members.

Other measures would create a “Condominium Fraud Investigation Pilot Program,” and increase criminal penalties for board members who accept kickbacks.

Rep. David Borrero, R-Miami, filed HB 547 on November 9 at the behest of his friend and fellow delegation member, Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Doral. Rodriguez filed the companion, SB 394, on October 13.

Neither bill has been heard. The session convenes January 11.

The measures would eliminate a provision in existing law that allows newly elected board members to waive a state training course by promising to read and abide by association bylaws.

“So many board directors waive off the education requirement by submitting a form, it’s not even an affidavit, just a form, that basically states that they read their condo docs,” Borrero said.

Borrero works in construction management and holds a J.D. from St. Thomas University School of Law. The proposed legislation would require condominium, cooperative and homeowner association board members to take a state training course up to a year before, or within 90 days of being elected. Board members would be required to sign an affidavit attesting that they have read and will comply with association bylaws. They would also be required to post the affidavit and training certificate on a website. Failure to comply would risk removal from the board.

Borrero said the board members routinely make decisions regarding maintenance reserves and capital improvements, among other things, that impact the safety of the community.

“It’s not just stuff that you would know off of the top of your head,” he said. “It’s stuff that even lawyers, I would argue, aren’t fully aware of unless you take a class or read the statutes that cover these things.”

Ft. Lauderdale attorney Eric Glazer worked with Borrero and Rodriguez to help craft the legislation. A managing partner with Glazer & Sachs, P.A., Glazer is board certified in condominium and planned development law. In recent years, he has administered a free, state-certified training course to 20,000 board members.

Glazer noted that a Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section task force recommended setting aside 30% of a state trust fund “to train and educate directors, officers, and unit owners.” The trust fund is backed by a $4 per-unit fee charged to associations.

The training programs would be ineffective without a mandate, Glazer argues.

“This is 100% related to the Surfside tragedy,” Glazer said. “It will definitely save lives.”

Rep. Nicholas Duran, D-Miami and a lawyer, filed HB 329 on October 18. Like Borrero, Duran did so at the behest of Rodriguez. Rodriguez filed the companion measure, SB 642, on October 26.

Neither bill has yet to receive a committee hearing.

The proposed legislation would require the state Division of Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes to create a searchable database by January 1, 2023.

The database would include such things as the names, addresses, and email addresses for association board members, the association’s governing documents, and indicate whether the association maintains a reserve account for capital improvements and maintenance, and whether the account is fully funded. Associations would also be required to list reserve studies and maintenance inspection reports.

Duran said the proposed bill would promote safety and greater transparency.

“It certainly is related to the tragedy,” Duran said. “I represent a district that has quite a bit of condominium associations, you know, Brickell, Coconut Grove, Coral Gables, Key Biscayne. It’s just been a running conversation about transparency on these sorts of things.”

Realtor groups told the RPPTL task force that they often struggle to identify condominium board members and obtain the 40-year re-inspection reports that are mandated for residential high rises in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Miami and a former prosecutor, represents a district that includes Champlain Towers.

This summer, Pizzo vowed to file legislation that would require structural inspections for residential high rises, and insurance reforms that would promote better safety protocols, although he says he does not favor mandates that would be too costly for condo residents.

Pizzo filed SB 880 on October 8. The measure would, among other things, raise the criminal penalty for board members who accept kickbacks to a third-degree felony. There is no companion measure.

But Sen. Rodriguez, the Doral Republican, filed SB 274 on September 21. Among other things, the measure would create a “Condominium Fraud Investigation Pilot Program” in the office of attorney general.

Champlain Towers South was 40 years old and facing millions of dollars in repairs when it collapsed in the early morning hours.

The RPPTL task force found that there are 912,376 condo units that are at least 30 years old and home to some 2 million Floridians. The figure includes more than 105,000 units that are older than 50 years.

The task force made a host of other recommendations, including mandating re-inspections for residential high rises every 10 years, enhanced maintenance protocols, and more stringent reserve policies.

Duran, the attorney, commended the task force and said he agrees with its recommendations. He anticipates that lawmakers will be debating more reforms this session.

Lawmakers in both chambers feel the same urgency that prevailed after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting, Duran said.

“We came together and passed a piece of legislation that a lot of Democrats didn’t like, and a lot of Republicans didn’t like, but we did it because we knew it was important to get it done,” he said. “I feel like we’re in that same sort of environment here, and I think there is going to be a willingness by both sides, both chambers, to find some common ground.”

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