As originally published in the Florida Specifier

By Leo Cannyn, PMP, P.E., ENV SP
Principal Project Manager
Beryl Project Engineering

Deteriorating non-commercial condominium buildings are a natural, persistent, and severe problem in Florida. Unfortunately, until lawmakers passed new legislation earlier this year, Florida didn’t have statewide inspection requirements for high-rise condominium buildings.

The Surfside Champlain Towers South, a 12-story oceanfront condominium in the Miami suburb of Surfside, brought the issue front and center when it was noted that the building had just concluded its 40-year recertification by inspectors.

Shortly after the collapse that killed 98 people, a federal investigation determined the condo building had substantial concrete structural damage to its pool deck and was overdue for repairs.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed an inspection bill that now requires stricter safety mandates for condominiums.

Necessary Changes

Senate Bill 4-D addresses the issues found during the Surfside investigation and requires increased safety measures for all Florida building owners and tenants. Specifically, the changes in the state’s regulations address these problems by mandating that only a licensed engineer or architect can conduct structural integrity evaluations, which will occur on a scheduled basis. Previously, lesser-trained inspectors completed these reserve studies, and were only required to note potential impairment.

To be in compliance with the bill, a structural reserve study must now include an inspection of the roof, load-bearing walls or other primary structural members, floors, foundation, fireproofing, and fire protection systems. In addition, the inspection must cover plumbing, electrical
systems, waterproofing, exterior painting, windows, and any other item with a deferred maintenance expense or replacement cost exceeding $10,000.

Direct Impact on Associations

Senate Bill 4-D includes other changes that directly impact Condominium and Homeowners Associations. Under the new law, COAs and HOAs must have enough money in their reserves to fund all repairs necessary to maintain the structural integrity of all buildings three stories or higher. These requirements must be met by December 2024. Additionally, the structural inspection report is an official record of the Association and must be maintained for 15 years. A tenant or prospective purchaser of a unit has the right to inspect this Milestone Structural Inspection report.

Previously, Associations in Florida could vote to waive their reserves, meaning they didn’t have to set aside any funds at all. Instead, many relied on assessments of unit owners to pay for repairs whenever there was a need. For example, if building siding needed to be replaced and the association was short $250,000, that amount would get divided among unit owners, who might need to use savings or even take out a loan to cover costs.

As a result, there is renewed concern for HOA and COA directors and officers responsible for making decisions about the inspection and maintenance of the Association’s buildings and equipment. Any mismanagement of maintenance funds can result in the officers being held liable for damages.

Compliance Timeline

Associations existing on or before July 1, 1992, which are controlled by unit owners other than the developer, must have a structural integrity reserve study completed by December 2024 for each building that is three stories or higher.

For buildings within three miles of the coastline, each building in the community that is three stories or higher must be inspected by Dec. 31 of the year in which the building turns 25 years old and then every 10 years thereafter. Buildings outside three miles of the coastline must receive an inspection on the year in which the building turns 30 and again every 10 years thereafter.

While some Associations are engaging with engineers now in order to meet the new law/provisions, others are planning to wait until after the 2023 legislative session next spring. They want to see if the new law may be adjusted.

Senate Bill 4-D is welcomed news. Buildings across Florida are susceptible to not only daily corrosion from humidity and salt, but also to the annual occurrence of tropical storms and hurricanes. It may not be all we need to prevent another collapse, but it’s a very strong start. HOAs and COAs need to start now and implement any necessary updates, making any necessary changes needed to protect the buildings and the safety of their tenants.