Introducing new inspection laws in Florida and the subsequent assessment hikes, including unique special assessments, can significantly increase the cost of living.
The Surfside condominium collapse of 2021 was not a unique incident. In 1981, the walkway of Hyatt Regency in Kansas City collapsed and killed about 114 people, and there are several other examples where workers died when an under-construction building collapsed.
However, these incidents are rare enough to jolt the nation and regulatory bodies into action and develop laws/introduce regulations to ensure such things don't happen again.
These laws usually pertain to stricter construction and insurance. A similar incident of this nature also happened in Florida when the state passed a bill in 2022 to prevent an incident like the Surfside condominium collapse from happening again.
The 2022 Building Safety Bill
SB 4-D is a building safety bill that passed in May 2022. The bill has three main provisions—the first deals with roofing laws, and the second deals with assessments and inspections. The third addresses the reserves a condominium should have for the building's repairs.
Florida has introduced milestone inspections for condominiums and cooperative association buildings over three stories tall. A milestone inspection performance is necessary when a building turns 30 years old, then after every 10 years.
- The first milestone inspection is necessary after 25 years if the building is within three miles of the shoreline.
- For all the buildings built before July 1992, the building manager/property manager must perform an inspection before December 31, 2024. For buildings constructed after the date, managers must perform the inspection after their 25-year or 30-year milestone.
There are two inspection phases. The first inspection phase must occur within 180 days of receiving an official notice. The phase-2 inspection should only happen if the first inspection reveals significant structural damage, which may endanger the safety and well-being of the residents of the building.
There are about 1.5 million individual condo units and 27,537 condo associations. Most of the buildings, especially ones with 20 or more units, date back before 1990, so there is a high chance that all of these buildings need to complete an inspection by the end of next year. Approximately 650 certified structural engineers are in the state, so if just 13,000 buildings need this inspection, that's about 20 buildings per engineer. Considering buildings have well over a year before the cut-off date, ample time and a reasonable number of professionals are available for the job.
In addition, the bill also stipulates that all condominium buildings complete a structural integrity reserve study, i.e., a report of a condominium's financial reserves that it can use for capital improvements and repairs (that cost more than $10,000) every ten years. The first study (for all but the newest condominiums) must finish before next year's end.
The cost of inspection itself is not a problem. Even if the boards decide to divide the inspection cost between the condo's reserve and residents, the number may be insignificant, especially considering its frequency (once every decade after the first one). However, what these inspections reveal may have substantial implications for condo owners, tenants, and potential buyers/investors.
How these inspections will impact the stakeholders
Apart from condo boards that have to oversee these inspections, manage the repairs, and ensure there are enough funds in the reserve to fund those repairs, the three stakeholders that bear most of the impact that these inspections and the special assessments will pave the way for tenants, condo owners, and prospective buyers.
Condo owners and tenants
Condo owners may experience their monthly/quarterly mandatory fees rise significantly. Until now, condo owners (as members with voting rights) could choose to keep regular assessments (monthly/quarterly) low by voting to not divert any money or a small amount to the condo reserve fund.
But now, with inspections likely to reveal costly structural problems and reserve studies determining whether the condos have enough funds to fix those problems, this is no longer an option. The condo boards will have to ensure that the building has enough money in reserve to make the necessary repairs highlighted in the inspection.
It will be especially problematic for condominiums expecting to undergo an assessment before 2025, which may reveal significant structural problems, and they need more reserves to get those repairs.
They have two options. The first is to raise the requisite funds by inflating their existing assessments; some areas are already experiencing increases as high as 80%. The rapidly rising insurance costs exacerbate this option, which can significantly increase living costs in these condos.
The second option is to levy special assessments to bring the reserves up to the desired level. In extreme cases, these special assessments can cost as much as $150,000.
The financial cost of these assessments is the most immediate problem for condo owners, and it can become just as significant a problem for tenants if the condo owners decide to share this burden with the tenants or raise their rent proportionally to account for this additional expense (since there is no rent control). If the rent or cost of tenancy rises significantly enough, the tenants may prefer to leave for a more affordable rental or break the lease. If the condo owners are still looking for tenants for their units, they will have to bear the cost of these assessments without any rental income.
However, a long-term problem exists - these condominiums' resale value and desirability. If buying a condo now comes with a massive assessment, more buyers might start looking into single-family homes, lowering the desirability and resale values of the condos.
The first thing you need to understand as a prospective condo buyer is that, just like the residents of the building, you have the right to see the inspection reports of the building. So you will know what structural investments/repairs the building has to make in the coming years and determine how it would impact your assessments (cost of living), allowing you to make an informed decision.
However, the cost of these assessments is a more critical and pressing problem. Let's say a building needs to raise $25,000 by the end of 2024 from each condo unit in the unit before 2025.
If you buy now, you can add this number to the price tag to get a more realistic idea of what you are buying. If the expected price rises by about $10,000 by the end of 2024, it may be more financially viable to wait a year and buy for a higher price but lower assessments than buying now.
Even though it's just one more financial aspect to consider before you make a purchase decision, it can significantly affect your cost of living.
The situation will differ for each condo, depending on their current condition and reserves. Still, the new inspection and recertification laws will impact almost all condo owners in Florida. So, it's essential to inform yourself and start planning accordingly. As a board of directors, you must analyze and review all aspects and their impact on your property to fulfill your fiduciary obligation to the community with short-term and long-term financial planning options.
This article is for informational purposes only. It should not be considered financial, real estate, or legal advice. The market fluctuates; therefore, not all information will remain the same. Consult a financial or real estate attorney before making significant real estate decisions.