TALLAHASSEE — A contractors group and an Orlando-area roofing firm Thursday challenged the constitutionality of a new law that combines a property insurance change with efforts to bolster the safety of condominium buildings.
The lawsuit, filed in Leon County circuit court, came after a separate challenge was filed Tuesday against another bill that the Legislature passed last week during a special session called to address problems in the property insurance system.
In Thursday’s case, the Restoration Association of Florida and Florida Premier Roofing LLC are targeting a bill (SB 4-D) that, in part, changed a state law about roof damage. But the highest-profile part of the bill placed new requirements on condominium buildings and associations after the deadly collapse last year of the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside.
The lawsuit challenges the roofing change but also contends that the overall bill is unconstitutional because it ties together “voluminous distinct subjects.” The plaintiffs contend it violates a constitutional requirement that laws deal with single subjects.
“By way of example, but not limitation, the establishment of mandatory structural inspections for condominium and cooperative buildings lacks any cogent connection to regulating roofing contractors and repairing and/or replacing roofing systems in residential homes,” the lawsuit said.
Gov. Ron DeSantis called the special session to try to bolster a troubled property insurance market that has led to homeowners losing coverage and seeing large premium increases. Lawmakers passed two bills (SB 2-D and SB 4-D), which were quickly signed by DeSantis.
The condominium issue was added to SB 4-D during the special session after the House and Senate earlier this year could not reach agreement on a plan for trying to prevent future building collapses. Among other things, the new law sets requirements for inspections and condominium associations having adequate reserves to make repairs.
Lawmakers unanimously passed the measure.
In addition to alleging a violation of what is known as the constitutional “single-subject rule,” the lawsuit filed Thursday contends that the roofing change alone is unconstitutional.
Insurers in recent years have blamed roof damage claims for playing a key role in driving up costs. Lawmakers made a change related to the Florida Building Code that could lead to insurers repairing more roofs instead of needing to replace them, according to a Senate staff analysis.
“Put simply, the insurance industry wanted, and the Florida Legislature enacted, legislation aimed to significantly increase roof repairs after property loss and substantially decrease the number of total roof replacements when, in reality, they are vital to preserving a home after severe weather events such as hurricanes occur,” the lawsuit said.
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The lawsuit alleges, in part, that the measure violates due-process rights because it conflicts with another state law that requires roofing materials to match in quality, color and size when repairs are made.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs wrote that “many homeowners prefer to replace damaged roofs when significant issues arise after a severe weather event. Yet, their insurance companies — corporations that reap the benefits of policy premiums — prefer to pay less and make repairs, exposing the homeowner to further issues in the future. The new statutory framework permits insurance companies to repair roofing systems without adhering to the (roof-material) matching statute in violation of Florida law.”
The Restoration Association of Florida, which lobbies on insurance issues, also is a plaintiff in the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Leon County circuit court. Along with Air Quality Assessors LLC, an Orlando firm that does work such as mold testing and leak detection, the association is challenging part of SB 2-D that put a new restriction on attorney fees in lawsuits against insurance companies.
By Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida