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Longboat ready to move ahead on condo safety if Tallahassee doesn't

The topic is expected to be raised this week during a Legislature special session in Tallahassee.

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  • | 12:57 p.m. May 23, 2022
Islands West, one of the tallest buildings on the island, is among 39 town condominiums built in the 1970s.
Islands West, one of the tallest buildings on the island, is among 39 town condominiums built in the 1970s.
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Keeping an eye on the Florida Legislature’s special session discussions this week on property insurance, Longboat Key town leaders also are hopeful the state takes the lead on building inspections for high-rise condos.

But even if it doesn’t, they are ready to move ahead.

Lawmakers in Tallahassee opened a session on Monday largely focused on property insurance and roofing lawsuits intended to run no later than 11:59 p.m. Friday night. Town commissioners heard last week from their lobbyist that condominium inspections could also be brought up, as noted deep in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proclamation calling for the special session, he said. 

"Everybody talks about it being an insurance call, (but) there’s two or three other things in there too," said lobbyist David Ramba. "Building code issues that can help insurance, and condo building codes. Don’t believe everything you read in the newspaper. They read the first line of the proclamation, but there’s like 30 more behind that."

Since the deadly collapse in 2021 of a 13-story condo tower in Surfside, the issue of safety of taller, older condominium buildings, especially by the shore, has come into sharp focus. Although communities around Florida urged the legislature to act in its most recent session, no bills were passed.

Differences in House and Senate bills in the most recent session largely focused on requirements for condominiums to hold reserves large enough to pay for structural repairs. The House bill pertained to buildings needing to be recertified after 30 years if three stories or higher, or 25 years within three miles from the coast with recertifications every 10 years. The Senate bill pertained to three-stories-or-higher buildings at least 20 years old and three miles from the coast. Recertifications under the Senate bill would have been every seven years.

In the meantime, town has drafted an initial set of its own recertification rules, modeled from recommendations of a working group of Florida building professionals, in case the legislature comes up empty again. 

Among the town's provisions:

  • Establishes recertification requirements for buildings at least three stories tall, at least 20 years old every seven years.
  • Does not address financial reserves
  • Obligates building owners to submit to the town Building Department a summary of the recertification inspection findings and recommended actions.
  • Obligates town to notify building owners a year in advance and six months in advance of a recertification deadline
  • Buildings 50 or more years of age would be required to report first, a year after a proposed launch date of Oct. 1, 2022. Newer buildings would be phased in over 18 months to two years.

Town commissioners had planned last week to delve into the proposed set of local rules but set is aside for potential future discussion in light of learning the legislature would take it up. If nothing develops in Tallahassee, the town could move ahead as early as July 1 with adoption potentially in September.

"Obviously, we'd rather not do that and have it come from the state," Commissioner Mike Haycock said.

Ramba said he was confident the issue would come up, potentially leading to a new set of statewide rules, largely based on the Senate bill. 

"If the state doesn’t do something I think the legislative history will inform what we then go ahead and do," said Commissioner Sherry Dominick. "Why did they reject it if they reject it still. If they go ahead, then we don’t want to be in conflict with them. I think we gain something by waiting a little bit."

David Lapovsky, the president of the Federation of Longboat Key Condominiums, said the organization has received a draft copy of what the town proposes. Appearing before the Town Commission, Lapovsky said inspections reports that would be submitted to the town likely would be open to the public, a fact he would personally support, though the organization has not yet weighed in. 

"I would welcome, I think we would welcome, having those inspections be a matter of public record," he said. "Our members should be upfront and open about what is the condition of their association."

Though the town regulations would not govern financial reserves, Mayor Ken Schneier said the inspections' public access, though possibly only public after repairs were allowed to be made, might make the issue of reserves moot. 

Rich Pearce, the federation's vice president, said the organization was dismayed at the legislature's first crack at the issue and hopes either the state or the town can move quickly toward setting up some kind of inspection regimen. 


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