Realtors tell condo task force they would like more access to records
The deadly Champlain Towers South collapse underscores the need for greater transparency in condominium sales, Florida Realtors told a Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section task force.
“There were 20 new sales and eight rentals preceding Champlain,” said Keith Wood, director of ERA American Real Estate Sales and Rentals. “Would this have occurred if the whole picture had been presented? Maybe. Maybe not.”
Wood was one of several real estate industry representatives invited to address a September 8 meeting of the Condominium Law and Policy on Life Safety Issues Advisory Task Force.
An outgrowth of the section’s Condominium and Planned Development Committee, the taskforce was formed to make recommendations and serve as a legal resource to Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature ahead of the 60-day session that convenes January 11.
Months before the June 24 collapse killed 98 residents, unit owners were in a dispute with their volunteer board over how to pay for an estimated $15 million in structural repairs that were identified in a 40-year reinspection.
Some owners were told they could be facing special assessments ranging from $80,000 to $200,000.
There is no easy way for brokers to obtain reinspection reports, or to notify potential buyers about a building’s condition, Wood said.
“Prospective owners don’t know the right questions to ask,” he said. “The transparency side is fundamentally unfair, and in no one’s best interest.”
Wesley Ulloa, broker and founder of Luxe Properties, a South Florida real estate firm, said she often struggles to identify board members and obtain board records. Even then, board minutes often don’t indicate whether the board has voted to waive a requirement that it maintain adequate reserves, she said.
“We would like that information up front, and in an easily accessible manner,” she said. “We believe it’s a best practice that reserves should not be waived.”
Ulloa said a professional management company overseeing a 500-unit condominium recently waited until two days before a closing to produce maintenance and other records that she requested weeks before.
“That is too late for a potential purchaser to make a decision,” she said. “We are putting a buyer’s back up against the wall to decide whether they want to purchase it or not.”
Danielle Blake, chief of public policy for the Miami Association of Realtors, said the tragedy is spurring buyers to press real estate agents for copies of a building’s 40-year re-inspection report.
“The big question is the 40-year recertification,” she said. “When buyers are asking, when members are asking, where do I get that report, I don’t know where to tell them to go.”
Miami-Dade County posts records indicating the status of a re-inspection, but not the inspection report, Blake said.
The eight-member task force is studying such things as condominium association governance, how reserves are calculated, maintenance policies, how buildings are insured, and the 40-year reinspection mandate, which currently applies only to high-rise residential structures in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
Task force Chair William Sklar, an adjunct professor at the University of Miami School of Law, noted that Florida has more than 900,000 condominiums that are 30 years or older and home to some 2 million residents. He asked another expert presenter, Roberto Balbis, principal engineer for Ardaman & Associates, Inc., if re-inspections should occur at shorter intervals, and if the mandate should be expanded statewide.
Salt spray from the Gulf of Mexico is just as corrosive as salt spray from the Atlantic, Balbis said.
“I don’t see why that certification shouldn’t apply to Tampa, or Clearwater,” he said. “Forty years seems like a long time.”