“We have to live in the real world”: Lawmaker, experts debate Florida’s condo crisis, looming association deadlines

Florida Rep. Vicki Lopez emphasized that associations will no longer be able to waive funding reserves for structural integrity work

Experts Discuss Florida’s Condo Crisis, Safety Deadlines
(Top) Florida Representative Vicki Lopez; (Bottom) Derrick Karadi, Sinisa Kolar, Roberto Blanch, Reggie Rodriguez, Rebecca Prieto (Getty, Pro-Max Restoration and Paint, Florida House of Representatives)

Attorney Roberto Blanch says Dec. 31, 2024 will be “a date that lives in infamy.” 

It’s one of the key deadlines for condo associations to comply with new condo safety laws that could upend the market for older buildings across Florida.

The Miami-based lawyer, a shareholder at Siegfried Rivera, was among six experts who spoke last week at a condo symposium about the “perfect storm” of challenges brewing for unit owners and associations, nearly three years after the Surfside condo collapse killed 98 people. 

It’s become more expensive to own a unit in an older condo building, in part because the laws require that associations fund financial reserves that previously could be waived, and require that these buildings be repaired and maintained. On top of that, insurance has doubled or tripled for some complexes in recent years. 

The situation is so dire that Florida Rep. Vicki Lopez said she is looking at legislative ways to help condo owners who are forced to make the decision to terminate their association — a legal requirement so that a condominium building could be knocked down and redeveloped, or converted to rental apartments. 

“It’s very simple,” she said at the event, held at the Rusty Pelican in Key Biscayne. “If the condo owners cannot afford it, and the building needs structural improvements, their only other option [if] they can’t borrow the money, is to terminate. … I know that’s pretty sinister, but it’s reality, and I want people to understand we have to live in the real world that we now find ourselves in.” 

Lopez’s district includes Key Biscayne, Coconut Grove, Shenandoah and other parts of Miami-Dade County.

Laws passed in 2022 and 2023, Senate Bill 4-D and Senate Bill 154, create milestone inspections for condo and co-op buildings that are three stories or taller when they turn 25 or 30 years old, depending on how close to the coastline they are. They also require all associations to complete structural integrity reserve studies (SIRS) every decade, and fully fund those reserves, among other new mandatory reserve rules. 

The reserve study must be completed by Dec. 31 of this year. 

Separately, the milestone inspection deadline is Dec. 31, 2025. This is a structural inspection of a building, its load-bearing walls and other structural elements, by a licensed architect or engineer, according to the statute. If a building was 30 years old before July 1, 2022, then the inspection must be performed before the end of 2024. If it turns 30 between July 1, 2022 and the end of 2024, the inspection has to be completed before Dec. 31, 2025. 

Confusion has abounded over these deadlines, whether some properties are exempted, and how it will all be enforced.

Any budget adopted on Jan. 1, 2025 or later must fund the SIRS reserves, Lopez said. And the mandatory reserves for SIRS can never be waived. 

On enforcement, Blanch said that before the collapse of Champlain Towers South in 2021, “some municipalities and counties were getting a bad rap.”

“I do, to their credit, believe they’ve become a lot more strict on this,” he said. “So I caution a lot of our clients to be on top of these deadlines.” 

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Some flexibility seems to exist, in part because of the huge demand for engineers, architects and reserve study experts to complete these studies for associations across the state. 

SB 328 states that the local municipality may expend the initial milestone inspection date if the association shows “good cause” that the inspection can’t be completed on time, but that the owner or owners have entered into a contract already to get the inspection done.

“If it is not completed by the end of the year, my position is, if you have made every attempt to do so, your minutes reflect that you have signed a contract already and it just couldn’t get done by then, there’s nothing that is going to happen to you,” Lopez said. “We understand that every condo is going to do this across the state, so there may be some delay.” 

Derrick Karadi of Brown & Brown Insurance said insurers are requiring associations comply with the new inspections. If they don’t, the associations are compromising their coverage. 

The speakers all cautioned against delaying because the projects that condominium associations will have to undertake will become more expensive. And owners who wait will have to spread that cost into a shorter period of time. 

Sinisa Kolar, principal of the Falcon Group, an engineering firm, used the example of an association that has to set aside $1 million to replace its roof in 10 years, and it decides to wait one year to begin reserving. 

“Just because we push the reserves one year, does not mean we push the life of the roof another year,” Kolar said. 

Ray Rodriguez of Pro-Max Restoration and Paint, which hosted the panel, and Rebecca Prieto of Popular Bank, urged associations and condo owners to set aside enough of a contingency for whatever extra work ends up being needed. Prieto also said that when associations come to her for a line of credit or a loan, it’s important that they have windstorm insurance

“If there’s a key aspect that many, many of us forget … in all the buildings that we touch, you never know exactly what’s wrong with it,” Rodriguez said. “You’re chipping [at] something and doing work to it, and there’s stuff that you’re inevitably going to run into that none of us know. So it’s always good for the engineer to put together a healthy contingency and have enough.” 

Prieto said “it’s never enough contingency.” 

“I’ve had buildings that have had 100 percent contingency because you never know what happens when you tap into the concrete restoration,” she said. 

Unit owners and associations at buildings and complexes that can’t be fixed or maintained, and that can’t finance these projects through a loan or line of credit, will be in the most trouble. 

“For many of us, we thought that living in condominiums would be affordable,” Lopez said. “I think what we’re coming to determine now is that it may be very unaffordable for many people.” 

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