After the Surfside building collapse, Florida’s chance to make condos safer | Editorial
The deadly collapse in South Florida spurred legislation that would safeguard lives, property and the tax base.
Part of the 12- story oceanfront Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside collapsed on June 24.
Part of the 12- story oceanfront Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside collapsed on June 24.
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published March 10, 2022

The Florida Senate took an important step Thursday toward preventing another tragedy like the deadly condominium collapse in Surfside. Lawmakers approved new inspections of aging condo buildings, an essential step in protecting life, property and the real estate market in Florida.

A federally appointed team of engineering experts is investigating what caused the 12-story Champlain Towers South condominium, north of Miami Beach, to collapse in June, killing 98 people. While understanding the science behind the tragedy is critical, the collapse also exposed dangerous gaps in how condominiums in Florida are managed and maintained. Only two Florida counties — Miami-Dade and Broward — require that condos be inspected and recertified as safe after a building turns 40. The legislation passed by the House and Senate toughens that requirement and applies it statewide.

The Senate on Thursday approved a House bill that requires structural inspections of multifamily residential buildings three stories tall or greater. Buildings must be inspected for structural safety after they reach 30 years old, and every 10 years thereafter. Buildings within 3 miles of the coastline would face earlier, initial inspections — after 25 years, a sensible accommodation given the corrosive effects of sea water.

The House unanimously passed its version, HB 7069, last month, and though the Senate took up the House plan, both chambers adopted a package of reforms with unanimous, bipartisan support. The legislation requires condo associations to routinely examine their reserves to both plan and budget for essential repairs. The measure also requires greater disclosure and record-sharing of inspection documents between associations, condo owners, potential buyers and government agencies. That will better inform property owners and prospectors of the expenses they face, and the accountability it fosters will bolster faith and investment in Florida’s real estate market. The two chambers were working toward a final agreement late Thursday.

The unanimity of support that this package enjoyed at every legislative stop speaks to the clamor and need for better protecting millions of Florida residents and visitors. Florida has more than 1.5 million residential condos, and of those, nearly 600,000 are at least 40 years old. Some 2 million people live in condos 30 years or older. Nearly 142,000 condominium units in the state are 20 to 30 years old. The numbers reflect how many condos are potentially waiting for age-related repairs.

The Legislature had every reason to turn public empathy for the Surfside tragedy into meaningful action. The state, after all, cannot hope to prevent another deadly collapse without knowing first whether a building is structurally sound. The federal probe will be enormously helpful in painting a fuller picture of how the safety of these buildings can be fundamentally improved. But inspections are the first step in getting any renovation started. This legislation will help condo owners and those in the market better plan for the expense of owning a piece of paradise. And it should bolster faith in the condo market — a critical tax base — by removing some uncertainty about investing in these buildings.

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Lawmakers were right not to allow this session to pass without addressing the call for reform. A poll released only last month found that an overwhelming majority of Florida voters support requiring regular inspections of these buildings across the state. The legislation better protects the lives and property of millions of Floridians, and it underpins a market and tax base that propels growth and prosperity in Florida. The governor should look forward to signing legislation that learns from this awful tragedy.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.