SURFSIDE — Florida
lawmakers are preparing a raft of proposals to increase
regulation of the condo industry, including more-frequent
inspections, in the wake of June’s deadly building collapse
in the Miami area.
Legislators return to Tallahassee in September for meetings
ahead of their regular session in January, but lawmakers
from both parties are already calling for changes. Ideas
range from adopting a statewide inspection requirement to
mandating that condominium owners set aside financial
reserves for future repairs, according to people involved in
Many say the sense of
urgency echoes other devastating events in Florida,
including Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which brought broad
upgrades to building standards, and the 2018 Parkland school
shooting, which led to gun restrictions once considered
untouchable in the Republican-controlled capital.
“The moment to fix some of these things that have been
worrisome for years is now,” said Rep. Joe Geller, a
Democrat whose district includes Surfside. “If that happens,
the tragedy is no less, but it would be something if we can
say to the survivors, the families, that we learned from
Investigators are still looking into what caused the
Surfside condo to collapse in the predawn hours of June 24,
and it could take years for a definitive answer. As of
Friday evening, the death toll stood at 79, with 61 people
The president of the
Champlain Towers South condo association told residents in
an April letter that their building was in desperate
disrepair and urged them to pay $15 million in assessments.
The condo association had just over $700,000 in reserves,
the letter indicated.
History shows that attempts to tighten condo rules in the
state have been watered down, repealed or ignored.
“Significant change is hard, and significant change that
costs money is harder yet,” Mr. Geller said.
And already, pushback has begun.
The state’s existing condo law puts much of the
responsibility in the hands of association boards, groups of
owners who volunteer to help manage the building. Their
duties can include communicating with city officials and
choosing engineers to do inspections and contractors to make
repairs. Boards have historically been reluctant to assess
cost-conscious owners long-term maintenance fees, according
to a number of real-estate professionals and lawmakers.
In 2008, a law was passed requiring any condo building
taller than three stories to be inspected every five years
and for reports to detail maintenance and replacement costs
of common property. During negotiations, a provision was
added giving owners the ability to waive that requirement. A
2010 law repealed the mandate altogether.
“It makes me mad as hell,” said former Rep. Julio Robaina, a
Republican from Miami who wrote the 2008 bill, which grew
out of a special committee on condos formed by then-House
Speaker Marco Rubio. Mr. Robaina said lawyers for condo
boards and property-management companies lobbied against
such a requirement, arguing that it was too costly for their
Mr. Robaina, who now works for a firm that does property
management, has been urging current lawmakers to adopt a
30-year-recertification requirement, and to close a loophole
that allows condo owners to vote against setting aside
financial reserves. He said real-estate agents are pushing
back on full funding of reserves out of fear it will price
out moderate- and lower-income people and leave condos only
for the wealthy.
The cost argument led to passage of legislation in 2017 to
soften a law on retrofitting older buildings with fire
sprinklers, but then- Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, vetoed
it after a building fire in London killed dozens of people.
Donna DiMaggio Berger, an attorney at the law firm that
represented Champlain Towers South’s condo association and
head of the advocacy group Community Association Leadership
Lobby, said the group supports changes at the state level.
She raised concerns about “the Florida Legislature’s
tendency to impose mandates with high price tags for
condominium owners while simultaneously making it more
difficult for associations to collect assessments from
delinquent owners and pursue claims against developers and
Among the things the group is discussing is more-frequent
and statewide mandatory structural certifications and a
low-interest government loan program to help older buildings
occupied by moderate-income residents, she said.
Edgardo Defortuna, a high-rise developer in South Florida,
agreed that there should be more-frequent inspections and a
requirement for owners of younger buildings to keep up with
maintenance. But he fears a regulatory overreach.
“I hope that everybody is reasonable about doing, of course,
everything that is needed to protect lives but not overdoing
it to the point those people who live in those buildings are
not able to,” he said.
Any legislation would require the signature of Gov. Ron
DeSantis, a Republican who has built a national profile of
his hands-off stance to masking and social distancing during
the Covid-19 pandemic. Mr. DeSantis has been a regular
presence in Surfside since the building fell, and local
officials have credited him with offering assistance and
handling the disaster well.
Mr. DeSantis this week didn’t commit to a statewide review
of older condo buildings, saying the Surfside condo has
unique issues. A spokeswoman, Christina Pushaw, said he
wants to base decisions on facts. “It would be reckless to
speculate what legislative and regulatory changes (if any)
need to be made at this point, without a complete and
comprehensive investigation,” she said.
Only two of Florida’s 67 counties, Miami-Dade and Broward,
require buildings to go through a recertification process
after 40 years. Officials in Miami-Dade, which includes the
town of Surfside, are discussing lowering that, and some
lawmakers want to see a standard across the state, or at
least in coastal areas.
Condo boards have long drawn scrutiny in Florida, and some
lawmakers have pushed for more transparency and
accountability regarding record-keeping and financial
management. Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, a Miami Republican,
introduced legislation last year to increase oversight, but
it failed to get a hearing. She plans to push for it again
in the coming session.
“The people who represent the condominiums have done a very
good job up until now keeping the legislature at bay,” Ms.
Rodriguez said. “But this is a matter of life and safety. We
cannot afford to continue delaying this type of
Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Miami Democrat and former condo board
president, supports more oversight and is advocating for
closing the loophole on reserve funds. “Nobody likes an
assessment, and they are usually steep,” she said. “But in
this case it cost us lives.”