Florida’s condo laws are changing. Here’s everything you need to know

Owners of more than 1.5 million condominium units in Florida are bracing for rules going into effect this year that dictate everything from how a building is maintained to how condo associations are governed.

Last month Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a sweeping bill that strengthens oversight of condominium boards. Dubbed condo 3.0, the law could give developers more control over common spaces in mixed-use condo buildings. There’s also a fast approaching deadline for new building safety standards in the wake of the deadly 2021 Surfside condo collapse.

Lawmakers and DeSantis approved the measure to restore faith in condos, said Larry Buckner, a Florida-based advisory manager for the housing research firm Zonda.

“It’s really become hard to choose a condo when you consider the recent safety concerns, negative public opinion, increased assessments and lack of transparency on condo boards, he said.

While lawmakers hope these reforms will improve the quality of condo life in the long run, the immediate fallout could cause a slump in the real estate market as more owners sell to avoid impending assessments.

Buckner noted that condo sales in the Tampa Bay area are below the 10-year average and pre-pandemic levels. Condos are also staying on the market for longer.

What are the new rules for condo board members?

The bulk of the condo 3.0 law is aimed at cracking down on corrupt condo boards and increasing transparency for unit owners.

“Condo owners have provided evidence of real malfeasance on the part of board members and property managers who have just gone awry,” said Rep. Vicki Lopez, the Miami Republican who sponsored the legislation. “The goal is to provide proper governance.”

The law, which went into effect Monday, will:

  • Set criminal penalties for condo board members who accept kickbacks; engage in voting fraud related to board elections; or fail to maintain or provide access to public records.
  • Give the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation more power and funding to enforce existing condo laws and investigate condo boards accused of wrongdoing.
  • Prohibit associations from retaliating against unit owners by suing them for defamation or increasing assessments.
  • Require associations with 25 units or more to make records available to condo owners through an online webpage by Jan. 1, 2026.
  • Require new board directors to undergo four hours of mandatory training on inspections, recordkeeping, financial literacy and more. All directors must undergo an hour of continuing education annually.
  • Mandate that condo boards hold four meetings a year with dedicated time for unit owners to ask questions.
  • Beef up disclosure requirements for condo owners looking to sell their units. Effective Oct. 1, owners must provide prospective buyers with the condo association’s annual financial statement and annual financial report.

Who is in charge of common areas in condo buildings?

In recent years Florida has seen an influx of mixed-use buildings that include both a condo and a commercial property like a resort or hotel.

Traditionally, developers have turned ownership of common areas such as pools, elevators, hallways, lobbies and green spaces over to the condo association once the units are sold. But a growing number of developers claim that they own these spaces, not the condo owners. This has led to several high profile lawsuits in South Florida.

A provision from a different bill that could give developers of mixed-use condos more control over common areas was tacked on to the legislation in the final stages.

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The late addition has drawn criticism from condo owners who say the change will strip them of decision making powers in their buildings and open them up to abuse from developers. Some are threatening to sue.

Stevan Pardo, a Miami attorney who successfully represented the Carillon Miami Beach condo association in a lawsuit they brought against the developer over common spaces, said the law will allow developers to raise assessments without approval from the condo board.

“Basically you’re handing off the keys to the developers and the hotels to dictate whatever property rights unit owners have,” he said.

Pardo pointed to cases where developers have been accused of overcharging condo owners.

What are the new building safety requirements for condos?

After Champlain Tower South in Surfside partially collapsed three years ago, killing 98 people, it was revealed that the condo association there had underfunded reserves and postponed major repairs to avoid raising assessments.

In May 2022, state legislators passed Senate Bill 4D to address systemic issues with how condos are maintained and financed. Several small amendments have been made since.

Under the new rules:

  • Condos three stories and higher must undergo an inspection after 30 years and every 10 years thereafter. This will determine whether the building is structurally sound and if it needs repairs.
  • Buildings that are already 30 years or older must have inspections completed before the end of the year.
  • Condos three stories and higher must review reserve funds before the year is over and every 10 years thereafter. This will determine how much condo associations must save to properly maintain the building.
  • Condos must base a budget adopted on or after January 1 of next year on the findings and recommendations from the review of reserves.
  • Condo associations three stories and higher will be barred from waiving or underfunding reserves.

How will this impact the real estate market?

Uncertainty about how these changes will pan out is already causing some to rethink condo ownership.

Condo and townhome listings in Tampa Bay increased nearly 99% year-over-year, according to May data from Greater Tampa Realtors. Sales fell 6%.

About 78% of condo units in Tampa Bay are 30 years or older, according to data from Zillow.

“Unfortunately in these older buildings, many people’s perspective was that you only need to fix it when it’s broken,” said Greg Main-Baillie, executive managing director for the Florida Development Services Group at Colliers who oversees construction projects for condos across the state.

He noted that certain repairs, like concrete restoration, could end up costing tens of millions of dollars. If the board hasn’t saved enough to cover the bill, the cost will fall on the shoulders of condo owners.

“It’s going to force people to decide whether they can afford to stay,” Main-Baillie said.

Disputes over common areas in certain buildings could pose another dilemma.

“What’s the value when you don’t own anything outside of your unit and you don’t have the right to control your assessments?” said Pardo.

Buckner said though some individuals may end up selling their units at a loss, he doesn’t expect to see any widespread price drops or a “fire sale.” Condos that make it through this transition will likely come out stronger and see higher values in the long term, he said.

Developers are already on the hunt for opportunities to demolish older condos and rebuild. Though the bar for terminating a condo association is high — just 5% of unit owners can block the decision — Main-Baillie said this could be a better option for condos with serious maintenance and financial issues.