Recommendations last week by a Miami-Dade County Grand Jury regarding tighter — yet, ultimately, costlier — regulations for condominium safety are gaining acceptance by those close to the situation on Key Biscayne.

The Grand Jury’s decisions follow previous scrutiny by a couple of other state agencies.

Among the recommendations would be to begin the recertification process within 10 to 15 years of construction (and subsequent 10 years), rather than the existing 40-year start of the process; repainting and weatherproofing structures every 10 years; and requiring engineer reports to be filed with local governments, not just the condo boards.

“It’s not a question of liking or not liking these recommendations. It’s a question of safety,” said Fausto Gomez, president of the Key Biscayne Condominium Presidents’ Council, who warns, “the property insurance companies are going to set the real parameters ... a much more aggressive interval than state or local governments.”

Michele Estevez, owner of Michele & Associates on Key Biscayne, where she currently oversees 12 properties, said she doesn’t think this is unreasonable. “If it’s mandatory, it will be different. It will make our jobs as managers easier (by just following those rules).”

After the June 24 tragedy, when a 40-year-old condo building collapsed in Surfside and resulted in 98 deaths, Miami-Dade and Broward counties re-emphasized the need to reinforce the state’s only 40-year recertification process, which they enacted years ago.

The Village of Key Biscayne was among local governments that quickly responded, with Chief Building Official Rene Velazco and his team auditing all previous inspections, even handing out $500 fines in advance of further penalties for those not in compliance.

“Anything that helps protect (buildings and its residents) and brings value to the community is good,” said Village Manager Steve Williamson, who applauded Miami-Dade County officials for their aggressive work, along with the strict Florida Building Code already in place. “We get their professional expertise, and that helps us.”

In addition to the initial inspection of a building between the first 10 and 15 years — and every 10 years after that — the Miami-Dade County Grand Jury recommended:

- Requiring condo towers be repainted and weatherproofed every 10 years to prevent corrosion.

- Having local governments increase the size of their building departments, and hiring more inspectors.

- Suspending for at least a year the licenses of engineers and architects who submit false or misleading recertification reports and barring their employees from doing such inspections during that time. A second offense would result in license revocation.

- Requiring architects and engineers who find structural damage to report it to local officials within 24 hours and not just to the condo board.

- Requiring condo board owners to take courses on their role in overseeing building maintenance and effectively managing a building’s finances.

“I think I put check marks on all of them,” Estevez said. “This is all to protect the interest, in the long run, of the building owners and, of course, the residents.”
Improvement costs well worth it

Estevez said before she got into the property management business in 1990 — “when condo managers didn’t even have to be licensed” — she started in construction.

“I learned from the ground up,” she said. “I agree with the painting and weatherproofing, and the 10 to 15 years for the first inspection.”

She realizes, though, all these regulations would — if approved — lead to increased fees, starting with residents. For example, she estimated that the cost to paint just a two-story building with 40-50 units would be $25,000 to $30,000.

One of the buildings Estevez oversees is The Pyramids on Ocean Lane Drive. It was built in 1990, so it’s not even due for recertification.

“But the Board decided to do a big job there,” she said. “There was some little loose stucco, and normal leakage in some windows. And they went ahead with a new roof while they were at it. The owners (were) all in agreement.”

The $1.6 million investment got underway this summer for the six-floor, 30-unit structure with amazing views of Biscayne Bay and the Miami Skyline.

Gomez is versed in a similar situation at the six-story Lake Tower in the Ocean Club condo complex on Crandon Boulevard, where he lives.

“It’s only 19 years old, but we’ve decided to go ahead next year and do a 20-year recertification,” he said. “I think our Legislature or our County Commission will (eventually) change (the 40-year regulation), so we want to be proactive and not reactive. It’s a significant cost, probably a couple hundred dollars per door, but I’m not an expert.

“I do know painting and waterproofing is the way to go, especially here in South Florida.”
Important to have reserve fund

Having a supply of reserve funds also is important, he said.

“The important thing is the property must be maintained and the resources have to be available,” Gomez said. “Having reserves on hand is very important, for daily maintenance, or for roof or structural damage.”

Estevez also agrees on the prevention measures.

“To be honest, when (some) developers build, they don’t waterproof, because it costs more and they don’t use top-quality materials,” Estevez said. “Paint from developers (might) last probably 4-5 years.”

Gomez likes the idea of educating residents and condo owners as to why money should be spent on such improvements. Also important is how to accrue the necessary funds.

Estevez said members of the condo Board of Directors already are required to be proficient in condo laws and, from time to time, they must be certified. She also said local law firms are often willing to come in and add a layer of skills knowledge.

“One thing they need to consider is, as licensed property managers, we are professionals, and the more things required, we have to charge more,” she said. “The liability for my company, for example, has increased ... As a licensed manager, all this comes with more work and more responsibilities.”
Legislating uniformity underway

Ironically, 10 days before the Surfside disaster, the Florida Legislature sent Senate Bill 630 to Gov. Ron DeSantis, clarifying the language of existing statutes to Florida’s condominium associations, including due dates for maintenance, and amendments to the Florida Homeowners’ Association Act, including reserves. Changes took effect July 1.

In late October, the Real Property, Probate and Trust Law (RPPTL) sections of the Florida Bar joined forces and delivered a 179-page report of recommendations. Those included: “assignment of responsibility and scheduling of maintenance; extensive professional inspections; and assurance that adequate reserves are put in place to make major safety repairs and other issues in a timely manner.”

The report, which called for legislative intervention since what lawyers called “a lack of uniform maintenance standards or protocols,” noted that Florida has more than 1.5 million condo units operated by 27,599 condo associations. It was unclear if any approved new legislation would expand outside Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

The Associated Press reported that, back in 2008, the state had repealed an imposed requirement requiring all condo towers higher than three stories be inspected every five years because it was deemed too costly.

Williamson said the professional organizations recommending the changes are spending “a lot of time and effort in what needs to be done, without overburdening the residents. They’ll evaluate those things, and if it’s something they think we should do, (Miami-Dade County) will put it in an ordinance and we’ll follow that.”

Estevez is certainly onboard.

“With all condo living, now you have to look at it in a different way,” she said. “What they are trying to improve, I don’t see as outrageous.

“I just know that patchwork doesn’t work.”