State Rep. Lopez going to bat for condo owners in Tallahassee with proposed reforms

Article Courtesy of The Islander News

By Hillard Grossman

Published January 20, 2024


It's not baseball season yet, but Miami-Dade Rep. Vicki Lopez will be digging in at the plate this week in Tallahassee, going to bat for condo owners like herself in legislation that aims to level the playing field and thwart illegalities.

"For years, condominiums have always flown under the radar," Lopez said Friday. "The shocking tragedy (at Surfside and other developments) has shined a need to look at condos as a separate residential community."

Her legislation, portions paired with Broward County Rep. Christine Hunschofsky and Sen. Jennifer Bradley of Fleming Island, encompasses several issues of reform that will be introduced beginning Tuesday, when the legislative session begins for 2024.

Among those is the proposed My Safe Florida Condominium Pilot Program, which would make inspections and grants available to condo associations and unit owners for improvements similar to those funded under the existing My Safe Florida Home Program for wind-resistant windows, exterior doors and garage doors; secondary water barriers for roofs; reinforcing roof-to-wall connections; and improving the strength of roof-deck attachments.

When the legislature first considered the Home Program, "they didn't include condominiums; they're like the stepchild," Lopez said. So she helped develop a pilot program "to allow what residential people need to do to get grants for windows and doors."

She said if this piece of legislation, among some 2,500 bills possibly being brought to the floor, passes, "the (insurance) rates will go down."

Lopez, who lives in a Brickell condo, said there are 1.5 million condo units across Florida and some 684 condo buildings in her district, which includes Key Biscayne. Many of these were built around the same time.

Revising Florida’s wind criteria areas is another piece of her HB 1021 legislation, part of a 117-page document entitled "Condo 3.0." Residents could purchase wind policies in clearly defined areas.

Lopez said holding condo boards accountable – the "bad actors," specifically – is also detailed in the reform bill.

"I don't want to broad-brush all condo owners as bad people," said Lopez, who went on a "listening" tour with Bradley last summer and held several town hall meetings, including on Key Biscayne and Brickell. "We met a lot of very committed (condo owners) doing the right thing. We learned this summer about the bad actors."

One of the things they learned was that condo boards were using (collected) money to sue condo owners for defamation, or that kickbacks or favors were being accepted for selecting specific vendors, or that property managers, because the condo boards hired them, couldn't do anything about deficiencies they witnessed.

Two crucial parts of the bill would give the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) more jurisdiction, if not at least the same as when the property was first developed. This would allow them into board meetings, which Lopez wants to expand from the required two to four annually.

Another issue is addressing election fraud, in which, for example, ballots are being sent by mail to condo owners in other countries, not allowing for 14-day deadlines. She wants to "send the right message" by treating condo election fraud with the same penalties as other state and local election misdeeds.

The bill also calls for condo board members to reveal conflicts of interest so that business can't be done with family members. "A lot of this (can be) very profitable," she said.

In addition, each board must provide a website in which all documents, whether it's the insurance policy or minutes from a meeting, could easily be accessed by residents, dropping the threshold for such regulations from a building with 150 units to just 25 units, and providing office space for those who do not have personal computers.

"The issues run the gamut," Lopez said. "Everybody is highlighting condo problems."