Condo 3.0’ bill boosting safety, board accountability heads to final House panel

Article Courtesy of Florida Politics

By Jesse Scheckner

Published February 17, 2024


The proposal builds on laws the Legislature passed after the June 2021 condo collapse in Surfside.

A bill designed to give teeth to Florida’s condo laws and ensure that condo board members are honest and accountable is now one House committee OK shy of a floor vote.

Members of the House State Administration and Technology Appropriations Subcommittee voted unanimously to advance the measure (HB 1021) after approving a pair of amendments to support the bill’s aims.

The voluminous proposal builds on a couple of laws the Legislature approved after the June 2021 condo collapse in Surfside to shore up deficiencies in building maintenance and the oversight and liability of condo boards.

Accordingly, Miami Republican Rep. Vicki Lopez, the bill’s sponsor, has dubbed it “Condo 3.0.” And once it’s passed, she said, it’ll be a “game-changer.”

Among its most important provisions, the bill would delete a sentence from Florida Statutes that now hinders the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) from enforcing the state’s condo and condo association laws.

Spencer Hennings, Florida’s former Condominium Ombudsman, raised the issue during a Nov. 14 panel discussion with lawmakers and detailed the loopholes condo and homeowners association board members use to evade punishment or removal. He described DBPR and other condo-facing agencies in the state as a “toothless tiger” in punishing wrongdoers to task.

HB 1021 and its Senate analog (SB 1178) by Fleming Island Republican Sen. Jennifer Bradley would also significantly expand condo record transparency requirements, establish criminal penalties for board members who defy voting, inspection and emolument strictures, and allow boards to secure lines of credit to fund state-required milestone repairs.

Further, it would set more board member education guidelines, clarify the obligations owners and their associations have for hurricane protection, and revise Florida’s anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) laws to ban condo board members from using association funds for defamation and libel actions.

Lopez said there are 694 condo buildings in her district, and she’s heard from them every day about the need for a bill like HB 1021.

“We’re very excited to see how this will play itself out so the condo owners finally have a voice,” she said. She credited the Subcommittee’s budget chief, Bruce Topp, for “his incredible effort in trying to negotiate with DBPR on what we would need to finally get his bill in proper posture.”

That included two amendments Lopez proffered and tacked onto the bill Tuesday with the subcommittee’s approval.

One changed the bill’s jurisdictional language to reduce the fiscal impact on DBPR. The other appropriated more than $7.4 million — $6.1 million in recurring funds, $1.3 million nonrecurring — to pay for added DBPR operations and to hire 65 full-time employees to enforce the law.

Like its Senate companion, HB 1021 earned plaudits from lawmakers and advocacy groups as it advanced. Karen Murillo of AARP Florida signaled support for the measure, as did Democratic Rep. Kelly Skidmore of Boca Raton and Republican Rep. Cyndi Stevens of St. Johns County.

“I have a district that is very condo-heavy in South Florida, and both bills that Rep. Lopez brought to us today are going to help my constituents tremendously with issues that have been brought to my office for years and years,” Skidmore said.

The other bill to which Skidmore referred is HB 1029, which would establish a condo-centric pilot program within a state house-hardening grant program called My Safe Florida Home.

Under the program, which Lopez is proposing with Parkland Democratic Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, condo owners would be able to access grants now afforded to owners of single-family houses and townhomes across Florida.

Lawmakers have set aside $433 million so far for the program, which they resurrected in 2022.

HB 1029 won uniform support Tuesday as well.