NECESSARY CHANGES TO PREVENT
Published July 17, 2021
Latest the Surfside tragedy should have taught all of us that necessary changes to the statutes regulating community associations are long overdue. We should stop the finger-pointing and concentrate on working on enacting these changes. No more watered down laws, no more lack of enforcement of existing laws and no more counting on “common sense.”
Our legislators have the obligation to finally pass laws that will protect the families living in these community associations from financial abuse, outrageous special assessments they can’t pay and seeing their loved ones killed in tragedies like we just saw in Surfside.
THESE ARE THE PROVISIONS THAT NEED TO BE IN THE BILL IF WE REALLY WANT TO DO WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE:
1. RESERVE STUDIES: Reserve studies should be done every 10 years, starting with the moment when the certificates of occupancy are issued. The reserve study has to be prepared by a licensed structural engineer or architect. These studies should be easily accessible to the owners (like on the association website). The reserves for structural maintenance and repairs
2. MANDATORY RESERVES: No more opting out by vote of owners! Fully funded reserves have to be mandatory and the money set aside has to be in the amount determined by the reserve study. Funding reserves has to start as well the day after the certificates of occupancy are issued. Reserve funds designated for structural maintenance/repairs can’t be used for other purposes as intended, not even with vote of the membership.
3. TURNOVER FROM DEVELOPER: At the time of turn-over the developer has to turn over to the newly elected board of directors: Up-to-date reserve studies, accounting of fully funded reserves and all records dealing with the construction of the building, including a list of all contractors that were involved in the construction.
4. CERTIFICATION REPORTS: Every 10 years a licensed, specialized building engineer should issue a certification report, especially discussing possible structural problems the building may have developed. This report has to be made easily accessible to all owners – and a copy has to be given to the local building department. The department has to make sure that all structural problems determined in the certification report are being addressed by the association within 1 year. The person in charge of oversight has to be a licensed structural engineer. Remember: We had certification requirements in FS 718 before (HB 995 – 2008 legislative session), but the provision was repealed in 2010, because of the pressure by realtors and the service industry.
5. PROPERTY INSURANCE: The amount of the property insurance has to be determined by a specialist who considers all the cost that would be necessary to rebuild a building using up-to-date building codes. As we have seen with the Champlain Towers South, a total property insurance of $45million is just ridiculous.
6. MANDATORY EDUCATION FOR BOARD MEMBERS: Board members would be required to attend (in person or on-line) an educational course approved by the DBPR in order to become certified. They will no longer be certified by signing a silly form that says they read their governing documents and promise to enforce them.
7. STRICT ENFORCEMENT: All laws regulating community associations have to be strictly enforced by a government agency willing to do the required job. No more excuses by the employees of this agency, and no more creating policies behind closed doors circumventing the wording of the existing statutes. There is sufficient money in the Condo Trust Fund – and if HOAs are included – the annual cost for each owner could be lowered to $2 – with more than enough money available to create a “Cadillac” of a government agency, an agency that is taking its job seriously. It is important to create a Community Association Fraud Task Force. Fraud, scams and embezzlement are plaguing our communities and owners need to be able to turn to law enforcement for help. Make any willful denial of a public record request a felony in order to stop owners from having to file lawsuits in order to get important records (like engineering reports).
Considering the fact that more than 50% of Florida’s population lives in community associations it is high time to protect these owners from developers and the so-called service-industry. I know that there will be a lot of resistance from all sides trying to implement these provisions, We will hear the common excuses used by the service-industry lobbyists: Too costly, burdensome to the owners, too much government regulation and interference -- and all the useless excuses we are hearing since 2004, when responsible legislators have filed owner-friendly bills trying to prevent disasters. And we have to protect the owners from themselves, who might complain that they can’t afford the cost added to their cost of living by implementing these laws. What is more important: LIVES OR MONEY?
Legislators allowed this type of housing – called community associations – to be created. Now, that more than 50% of the Florida population lives in this kind of housing, it is the obligation of our elected officials to create laws – laws that are easily enforceable – to protect the lives and financial welfare of the families living in these community associations.
The catastrophe in Surfside shows the necessity of creating these laws!