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Lawmakers push a host of condo crisis bills, seeking solutions and political credit

The luxury Towers of Channelside, featuring 257 units near downtown Tampa, is one of many largely vacant condo buildings.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times (2008)

The luxury Towers of Channelside, featuring 257 units near downtown Tampa, is one of many largely vacant condo buildings.

TALLAHASSEE — Condo bills have flooded the Capitol.

More than five dozen have been filed during the legislative session, as Florida grapples with its real estate crisis. But boil down the language of the proposals to help cash-strapped condo dwellers, and there are only a handful of ideas:

Make it easier for investors to buy multiple units in empty buildings. Delay state-mandated upgrades. Discover ways to punish owners who don't pay skyrocketing association dues.

"The session's become the train of condo bills," said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, the chamber's No. 2. "The condo associations have just been getting hit very hard and I hope we can get relief for them."

Why are the bills so similar? Some say it's a numbers game. More bills mean more chances that one will become law, especially after Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed an all-encompassing condo bill last year.

Others say it's politics. If a condo bill makes it to Crist's desk, he says he's willing to sign, and providing condo relief would be a political jackpot, said Miami Republican Rep. Julio Robaina.

Some condo advocates say the repetition among the bills illustrates a central problem.

"Creative solutions are not coming from the Legislature," said David Arnold, a partner at the Miami-Dade condo law firm Association Law Group. "I'm hoping that I'm wrong, but last year we did all this legislative analysis and nothing passed."

"Truth is, it's not just Miami," said Pete Dunbar, who advocates for the property section of the Florida Bar Association. "It's in Daytona (Beach) and Destin, Pinellas County and Naples."

If a unit is in foreclosure, owners often stop paying association dues. And if the bank takes over, state law says the bank has to only give 1 percent of the original mortgage payment to the association or pay six months of dues — whichever is less, forcing the remaining residents to pay more for utilities and maintenance.

Lawmakers are focusing on finding relief for those who have already invested by reducing fees and encouraging sales. They say now's the time to do it.

In Tampa Bay, for example, data from Florida Realtors show the median price for condos dropped 8 percent this year — from $108,600 to $100,000.

A bill filed by Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, is the considered the "one to watch" by condo lobbyists. It includes many provisions that are in other legislation. The bill lets each association to decide whether owners need to buy insurance for individual units, and repeals the mandate for buildings over 75 feet to retrofit for new fire sprinklers.

It also relieves liabilities for those who buy multiple units. If approved, these "bulk buyers" would no longer be responsible for such things as construction problems when they resell or rent the property.

It has a companion bill in the Senate filed by Fasano and Sen. Jeremy Ring, a Democrat from Margate. Fasano predicted the many bills will converge into one.

"We've incorporated many of the suggestions and recommendations," he said. "I believe at the end, we'll have one strong bill that helps residents."

Many condo bills, few ideas for relief

The bills are many, but the ideas are few. A sampling of the 60-odd bills regarding condos that include the most popular provisions in this year's legislation:

HB 561: Sponsored by Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, repeals a mandate to retrofit fire sprinklers in buildings over 75 feet and lets associations decide whether owners must buy insurance for individual units. Senate companion bill, SB 1222, is sponsored by Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate and Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey.

HB 595: Sponsored by Rep. Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton, requires lenders that take over condos in foreclosure pay condo fees for up to a year. Current law requires they pay only six months or 1 percent of the original mortgage, whichever's less.

CS/HB 397: Sponsored by Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami, eases liabilities for investors buying more than seven condo units to resell or rent. The developer would be responsible for construction mishaps, thus providing relief to so-called bulk buyers. Senate bill is SB 850.

Lawmakers push a host of condo crisis bills, seeking solutions and political credit 03/23/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 23, 2010 9:21pm]
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