Small talk with a stranger in a lobby led to alarming news for David McKnight about the $400,000 condominium he was about to purchase in Miami last summer.

Along with 24-hour concierge service and bayfront views, there was also a potential $24,000 assessment waiting for him once he closed on the deal.

“I just happened to randomly be in the lobby of the building, talking to the doorman, and the manager came up,” McKnight, a professional executive coach, recalled in a recent interview about the day when he was waiting for a pre-sale inspection of the condo he wanted to buy. “We were just chatting. He said: ‘It’s a great building. You know about the assessment, right?’

Even condo residents can have trouble getting hold of their buildings’ financial records, documents that are supposed to be readily available under Florida law to both owners and buyers under contract.

Now those records may be opened for anyone to scrutinize under a proposed Miami-Dade County law that would require associations to file key financial and maintenance documents into a public online library. That includes engineering reports and other documents related to long-term maintenance and structural concerns about buildings — records now in the spotlight after the June 24 collapse at the Champlain Towers South complex in Surfside that killed 98 people. While Surfside brought political momentum to the effort, disclosure rules have been a target of condo-law reformers for years.

After Surfside, momentum for tougher condo rules

“People are seeing this as a reaction to Surfside,” said Christina Pappas, a vice president at The Keyes Company real estate brokerage in Miami, which maintains its own private database for agents on condo disclosure documents obtained during sales. “But it’s something the Miami Realtor Association has been lobbying for for a very long time.”

After receiving no opposition at a county hearing on Feb. 10, the Miami-Dade legislation by Commissioner René Garcia was passed unanimously by the Miami-Dade County Commission on March 1, 2022.

T. Bernie” Bernard on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022. The real estate broker said she’ll use industry group chats to ask for condo disclosure documents when she has trouble getting the information from building managers. Bernard supports Miami-Dade County legislation to make those documents part of a public database.

“It’s what I call the knee-jerk reaction. But it’s a needed knee-jerk reaction,” said Julio Robaina, a former Republican state representative from South Miami-Dade and a longtime advocate for tougher transparency laws for condo and homeowner associations. “This is all about protecting owners who want to know what the heck is going on with their buildings.”

Florida law already requires condo sellers to turn over financial documents and reports on assessments to buyers once a sales contract is signed and the buyer requests the paperwork.

Condo documents can be hard to get, even for owners

But there’s no access for real estate shoppers considering the finances or maintenance needs of buildings where they might make offers. And state disclosure rules don’t always translate into buyers or even unit owners getting documents to which they’re entitled.

“It can be hard to get in touch with property management offices,” said Tina-Gaye Bernard, a Miami real estate broker who goes by “T. Bernie” and represented McKnight in his purchase.

Florida law only provides a three-day inspection period for buyers to drop a contract after the financial statements are provided, and Bernard said she often relies on the industry grapevine to try and flag potential issues before closing.

“We have to go into Realtor group chats and ask: Has anyone done a recent sale in this building? Do you know of any issues?” Bernard said. “This is why I’m looking forward to this searchable database. If they have to put those documents up, I don’t have to go chasing them down.”

The Miami-Dade legislation applies to all residential condo and homeowner associations, with no exemptions for small complexes.

What would be required in Miami-Dade condo registry?

Each association would need to register with the county’s Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources, and file an annual report with the required documents.
Those include:

  • A list of all officers and board members, with contact information

  •  Association bylaws, rules and resolutions

  • A list of all capital improvement projects planned for the next 12 months

  • The most recent financial statements, where “current or approved special assessments must be specifically outlined”

  • The current association budget

  • All reports “issued within the last 10 years on the structural status of each of the properties” governed or owned by the association

“I think this will bring more accountability to these boards to encourage them to do the right thing,” said Garcia, the sponsor and former state senator who is also the chairman of Miami-Dade’s Republican Party. “The problem we’ve had time and again with some associations is when residents ask for financials and budgets, they don’t provide them.”

Associations would pay fees starting at $50 for the smallest complexes to fund the new reporting system and a searchable county database with all of the filed forms. Forms would be due by Feb. 1 each year, so associations would have until 2023 to file their documents. The potential for an online library of previously private documents has some association representatives warning of unintended consequences.

Yearly filings could lead to outdated financial snapshots for affected complexes and communities, said Doug Weinstein, vice president of operations in Florida for AKAM, a residential-management company.

“Things with an association can change month to month,” he said. “You’re going to be dealing with potentially stale information. If it’s in the public domain and someone uses this information to make a decision on something, what is the liability on that?”

In Hallandale Beach, condo disclosure required

A hint of what might await Miami-Dade on the condo-disclosure front can be found on the website of Hallandale Beach, a Broward County city about 20 miles north of Miami. In 2020, Hallandale became the first Florida city to pass an ordinance requiring that condos file financial reports to the local government.

At, anyone interested can browse through PDFs filed by more than 100 associations, each with their own folder listed alphabetically, from the 121 Golden Condo complex to Yorkdale’s Carrollton Isle.

Some tidbits available: At the end of September 2020, the Isles of Paradise ‘A’ Association had $28,366.13 in its checking account, the Golden Bay Towers collected about $1,900 that year from laundry machines, and Paradise Villas may be upgrading all three of its elevators.

Anabelle Lima-Taub, the Hallandale Beach commissioner who sponsored the legislation, said she pushed the disclosure to fix a recurring problem of condo residents not getting financial documents.

“Now they’re armed with the information themselves,” she said. “They can go to their next board meeting, and ask: ‘OK, why haven’t we done this?”

For McKnight, the news of the $24,000 pending assessment didn’t kill his condo deal at an Edgewater building he did not want identified publicly.

He said Bernard helped negotiate an agreement with the seller to split the future assessment, which was not finalized by the time of his deal and had the chance of being for a smaller amount.

Bernard said the disclosure documents she obtained after the unit went under contract did not reveal the potential assessment, which was related to spilled concrete that’s the subject of a legal fight. McKnight said he couldn’t spot anything in the records flagging the large bill that might be awaiting him as a new owner.

“There definitely has to be more transparency,” he said.