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Grand jury report cites Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section’s condo recommendations

Senior Editor Top Stories
Katherine Fernandez Rundle

Katherine Fernandez Rundle

Eleventh Circuit State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle is praising a grand jury investigation of the Champlain Towers South condominium collapse that claimed 98 lives in Surfside in June.

“After listening to numerous building construction experts, evaluative panels and involved individuals, the grand jury came to a strong conclusion – save lives, not just money,” Fernandez Rundle said. “I hope this report provides an effective pathway to do that.”

The 21-member panel conducted a safety review with a goal of preventing another tragedy. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, an arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is investigating the cause of the collapse.

The grand jury report refers to an October 13 report by a Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section task force that conducted a similar review, and like the grand jury, recommends numerous changes to the Florida Condominium Act.

The task force, made up of condominium and planned development law practitioners, was appointed to study the tragedy and serve as a legal resource for the governor and lawmakers.

The panels identified some of the same factors that contributed to the tragedy, and recommended similar, but not identical, steps for addressing them.

Both panels focused on a South Florida mandate to reinspect residential high rises every 40 years.

“Almost every expert and industry representative who testified to our grand jury opined that they thought 40 years was entirely too long to wait for a safety inspection which would determine the structural, electrical, and life safety of buildings and residents in our communities,” the grand jury report states.

The grand jury recommended inspecting residential high-rise structures 10 years or older in Miami-Dade County by December 31, 2023.

The grand jury also recommended amending the Miami-Dade ordinance to require that an “initial detailed certification inspection would be performed no less than 10 years and no more than 15 years after completion of construction,” with updated inspection reports required every 10 years thereafter.

The RPPTL task force recommended that every residential building three stories or higher in Florida undergo an inspection by December 31, 2024, with updated inspections every five years thereafter.

The task force also recommended requiring periodic structural and life safety inspections of all condominiums and cooperatives three stories or greater after transition of control to unit owners. Thereafter, updated reports would be required every five years.

Both panels recommended basing future structural inspections on a more detailed developer turnover report. Both recommended making it harder for condo boards to waive a requirement to maintain adequate maintenance reserves.

“We are at a loss to understand why such a provision would even be included in the Florida Condominium Act,” the grand jury report states.

And both panels recommended better training for condominium board members, and greater transparency for condominium inspection reports and board records.

Unlike the task force, however, the grand jury report endorses a measure, SB 274, by Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Miami.

Filed September 21, the measure would create a “Condominium Fraud Investigation Pilot Program.”

Rep. Tom Fabricio, R-Hialeah, filed a companion, HB 811, December 1. Neither bill has yet to receive a hearing ahead of the 60-day session that convenes January 11.

The grand jury report supports the creation of a “special unit of investigators” to address complaints against condo board members that “now seem to fall through the cracks.”

“We further recommend that this special unit of investigators be responsible for conducting investigations of criminal conduct involving directors who serve on condo boards,” the grand jury report states.

 

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