Florida Building Safety Bill signed by Florida Gov. DeSantis

Governor DeSantis signed Senate Bill 4D (“SB 4D”) relating to building safety into law on May 26, 2022, on the same day he signed Senate Bill 2D relating to property insurance.  The bill was proposed and passed following the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside, Florida in June 2021.

SB 4D enacts measures with the goal of helping to ensure that condominiums are safely maintained and structurally sound to reduce any possible threat to the public health, safety, or welfare.  The bill includes several changes to existing law that may affect liability claims against property owners as well as first-party property insurance claims in Florida.  Whether the law will have its intended effects and success of the new legislation will be determined in the upcoming years.

Specific provisions of note include:

Roof Code Compliance

SB 4D provides that if a roof was previously built, repaired, or replaced in compliance with the 2007 Florida Building Code or any subsequent editions of the Florida Building Code, if at least 25% of the roof is to subsequently be repaired, replaced, or recovered, only the part being repaired, replaced, or recovered must be constructed in accordance with the current Florida Building Code.  This is a change from prior law, which under some circumstances required the full roof to be brought up to code.

Condominium Milestone Inspections

Each condominium building that is three stories or higher and has reached thirty (30) years of age must have a “milestone inspection” performed by December 31st of the year in which the building reaches thirty years of age, and then every ten years thereafter. If the building is within three miles of the coastline it must have a milestone inspection performed by December 31st of the year in which the building reached twenty-five years of age, and then every ten years thereafter.

Under SB 4D “milestone inspection” means a structural inspection of a building, including an inspection of load-bearing walls and the primary structural member and primary structural systems, by a licensed architect or engineer authorized to practice in this State for the purpose of attesting to the life safety and adequacy of the structural components of the building.  The association is responsible for arranging the milestone inspection and ensuring compliance and for all costs associated with the inspection.

Compared to prior law, this requires inspections to occur earlier in the life of the building and to occur more frequently.

Specific Steps Inspector Must Take Regarding the Inspection

SB 4D further details the specific steps the inspector must take regarding the milestone inspection. Specifically, the law provides for two phases of the inspection:

Phase one: a licensed architect or engineer authorized to practice in this state shall perform a visual inspection of habitable and non-habitable areas of a building and provide a qualitive assessment. If phase one examination finds no signs of “substantial structural deterioration” to any building components, phase two of the inspection is not required. Under SB 4D “substantial structural deterioration” means substantial structural distress that negatively affect a building’s general structural condition and integrity.

Phase two: If substantial structural deterioration is identified, phase two of the milestone inspection shall be performed.  The phase two inspection may be as extensive or as limited as necessary to fully assess areas of structural distress in order to confirm the building is structurally sound and safe for its intended use and to recommend a program to fully assess and repair the issues.

Upon completion of a phase one or phase two milestone inspection, the inspector must submit a sealed report to the building official of the local government.  The report must (among other requirements):

  • Identify any substantial structural deterioration, describe the extent of such deterioration, and identify any recommended repairs for such deterioration.
  • State whether unsafe or dangerous conditions were observed.
  • Recommend any remedial or preventative repairs for any items that are damaged but are not substantial structural deterioration.

In the event substantial structural deterioration is identified, SB 4D provides repairs must be commenced no later than three hundred sixty-five days after a phase two report is received. If that deadline is not complied with, the local enforcement agency must review and determine if the building is unsafe for human occupancy.

A renter of the unit has the right to inspect and copy the inspectors’ reports. A unit owner who is denied access to official records is entitled to the actual damages or minimum damages for the association’s failure to comply.

The association must distribute a copy of the inspection report to each owner, must post a copy of the inspector-prepared summary in a conspicuous place on the condominium property, and must publish the full report on the association’s website, if the association is required to have a website. 

Structural Integrity Reserve Study and Budgets

SB 4D additionally has requirements for a  “structural integrity reserve study,” which means a study of the reserve funds required by the association for future major repairs and replacement of the common areas based on a visual inspection, including of roof, plumbing, and waterproofing components.

A structural integrity reserve study must identify the common areas being inspected, state the estimated remaining useful life and the estimated cost or deferred maintenance expense of the common areas being virtually inspected, and provide a recommended annual reserve amount that achieves the estimated replacement cost or deferred maintenance expense of each common area being visually inspected by the end of the estimated remaining useful life of each common area. An association must maintain a structural integrity reserve study for at least fifteen years after the study is completed.

An association must have a structural integrity reserve study completed at least every ten years after the condominium’s creation for each building in the condominium property that is three stories or higher in height. Associations existing on or before July 1, 2022, which are controlled by unit owners other than the developer, must have a structural integrity reserve study completed by December 31, 2024 for each building on the condominium property that is three stories or higher in height.

The annual budget for the condominium must include a reserve account for capital expenditures and deferred maintenance. The amount to be reserved for a maintenance expense is determined by the most recent structural integrity reserve study. If the amount to be reserved for an item is not identified in the association’s initial or most recent structural integrity reserve study or if a structural reserve integrity study has not been completed, the amount is computed using a formula based upon estimated remaining useful life and estimated replacement cost or deferred maintenance expense of the reserve item.

In a change from the previous law, while unit owners are still permitted to vote on whether to fund reserves generally, the association is no longer permitted to provide no reserves or less reserves than required for items addressed in the structural integrity reserve study.