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Understanding The Changes Since The Surfside Collapse: Condominium Association Board Members Must Meet the New Requirements Promptly

August 24, 2023

In the wake of the tragic 2021 Building Collapse in Surfside, state lawmakers took swift action to Strengthen Condominium Safety Regulations. The result was Senate Bill 154, a comprehensive amendment to Florida's Mandatory Milestone Inspection Requirement for Condominium Associations. These changes are aimed at ensuring aging buildings remain safe for continued use, preventing future disasters, and providing greater clarity on compliance. However, the complexity of the Amendments demands careful review and understanding by Association Board Members to avoid any potential Violations.

The Bill (SB 154) is designed, at least in part, to address concerns that emerged as Condominium Associations started to carry out the Approved Law during a May Special Session. The Law and the Senate Bill Deal with issues such as Inspections and Condominium-Association Financial Reserves. The Bill, for example, would make changes in what are known as “Milestone” Inspections for Condominium Buildings three stories or higher.

One of the most crucial changes under Senate Bill 154 is the introduction of New Milestone Inspection Deadlines. Buildings that are three or more stories in height and reach 30 years of age before July 1st, 2022, must complete their Initial Milestone Inspection before December 31st, 2024. Conversely, for buildings reaching the 30-year mark on or after July 1st, 2022, and before December 31st, 2024, the Initial Milestone Inspection Deadline is extended to December 31st, 2025. Condominium Associations MUST mark these dates in their calendars and prioritize inspections to meet the New Requirements promptly.

The Law specifies Maintenance Responsibilities for Condominium and Cooperative Associations, including the Repair and Replacement of Applicable Property. After turnover of control, the Association MUST Maintain the Property as specified by the developer UNTIL New Maintenance Protocols are obtained.

Exemption For Coastal Buildings
In the previous Legislation, buildings located within three miles of the coastline were obligated to undergo a 25-Year Milestone Inspection. The Amended Law, however, grants local agencies the option to set a 25-Year Inspection Requirement, ONLY if justified by local environmental conditions, including proximity to Seawater. This means that some Coastal Condominiums may no longer be subject to the Mandatory 25-Year Milestone Inspection. Associations must ascertain whether their Local Enforcement Agency imposes this requirement and plan inspections accordingly.

Focused Inspection Requirements
The Amendments have introduced more focused Inspection Requirements for Condominium Buildings. Now, Milestone Inspections are limited to buildings with Residential Condominiums, ensuring that other types of properties are exempt from this process. Additionally, the Law clarifies that for Mixed-Use Condominiums, all owners of the building are responsible for ensuring compliance and sharing Inspection Costs. This change highlights the need for collaboration among Owners in Mixed-Use Properties to uphold Safety Standards effectively.

Flexibility In Inspection Deadlines
To accommodate unforeseen circumstances and practical challenges, Local Enforcement Agencies are now Authorized to Extend Inspection Deadlines for valid reasons. When an Association contracts an Architect or Engineer to Perform the Milestone Inspection and finds it impossible to complete before the deadline, a petition showing good cause may lead to an extension. While this provision adds flexibility, it emphasizes the importance of diligent planning and timely initiation of Inspections.

Acceptance Of Previous Inspections
Associations that underwent Milestone Inspections before July 1st, 2022, may be eligible to use those Inspections to meet the Current Requirements, provided they substantially comply with the new standards. However, it's Essential to note that Unit Owners must still be informed of the Inspection results, even if a previous Inspection is Accepted. This approach streamlines the process for some Associations while maintaining transparency.

The Amendments make it clear that Condominium Associations are responsible for all Inspection Costs related to the portions of the building under their governance. This clarification ensures that each Association bears the financial burden proportionate to its responsibilities. Consequently, Associations must carefully assess their financial capabilities to meet the New Inspection Requirements.

The Updated Legislation emphasizes better communication between Associations and Unit Owners regarding Inspection Deadlines and results. Associations are Required to Provide Notice about Inspection Deadlines within 14 days of Receiving Notification from the Local Enforcement Agency. Additionally, the Milestone Inspector MUST Submit a Phase Two Progress Report within 180 days of the Phase One Inspection Report. Furthermore, Associations must distribute a Copy of the Inspection Reports Summary to Unit Owners within 45 days of receiving it. These requirements promote Transparency and Accountability throughout the Inspection Process.

Given the significance of the recent changes to Florida's Mandatory Milestone Inspection Requirement, Association Board Members MUST seek expert guidance from Licensed Professionals to Ensure Full Compliance. A Licensed Professional can help navigate the complexities of the New Legislation and Avoid Potential Violations. Additionally, Associations should Review their Directors and Officers (D&O) Insurance Policy to Ensure Sufficient Coverage, as mistakes may occur during periods of legal change.

The changes made to Florida's Mandatory Milestone Inspection Requirement reflect a proactive approach by Lawmakers to prevent tragedies like the Surfside Collapse from recurring. The Amendments provide greater clarity and flexibility, allowing Associations to tailor their Inspection Plans to meet specific needs. However, it is imperative for Board Members to thoroughly understand the New Requirements and seek Professional Advice to navigate the complexities successfully.

By taking these actions, Associations can Ensure the Safety of their residents, Uphold Regulatory Compliance, and Mitigate Potential Risks.

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