TAMPA (WFLA) – As the recovery efforts continue at the site of the collapsed condo building in Surfside, the repeal of a state law related to condo associations more than a decade ago is coming under new scrutiny.
“If that thing was still in place today, this building would have had to have that check much sooner,” former Republican State Rep. Julio Robaina from South Florida told 8 On Your Side. “We wouldn’t have had the catastrophe.”
Robaina sponsored a bill in 2008 that called on condo associations to hire engineers or architects to submit reports every five years on how much it would cost to keep up with repairs.
“They call me now the grandfather of these condo issues,” he said.
When Robaina went around the state before proposing the legislation he said the number one concern he heard from condo building residents was about a lack of proper maintenance.
He said his proposal faced opposition from real estate lawyers and property managers. They argued it created too much of a financial burden.
“And my rebuttal is still good today, absolutely, this is about saving lives and making sure even back then that none of these buildings crumble,” Robaina said.
On Friday, officials in Surfside said the death toll rose to 79 and 61 people are still unaccounted for more than two weeks following the collapse at Champlain Towers South.
The version of the bill signed into law by then Gov. Charlie Crist allowed condo associations by majority vote to opt-out of collecting a financial reserve for repairs.
“Their true intent is they didn’t want this at all,” Robaina said. “Two years later the whole thing’s gone.”
Both the 2008 law and the repeal in 2010 passed by a near-unanimous vote in the Florida legislature.
8 On Your Side reached out to Congressman Crist, who was still governor at the time of the repeal.
“The Surfside tragedy underscores the fact that mandatory inspections, mandatory financial reserves, and low-cost loan funds for structural repairs for buildings similar to Champlain Towers are needed,” Crist said in a statement.
According to the email from Rep. Crist’s office, he is calling for:
- High rise buildings 30 years and older to undergo regular, rigorous inspections statewide.
- Mandatory financial reserves for major repairs at vulnerable condo buildings.
- The creation of low cost loan options for condos to carry out needed structural repairs.
- Older oceanfront buildings, susceptible to sea water intrusion, should be the first priority for inspections.
“The Governor has stated, unequivocally, and on numerous occasions, that a thorough investigation is needed to inform fact-based, evidence-driven policy recommendations,” Christina Pushaw, press secretary for Gov. Ron Desantis said in an email. “Considering that the local municipalities that have jurisdiction in the area have already begun investigating, the Governor has offered local authorities any state resources they may need to aid in their investigation.”
There has been a lot of attention that the tower in Surfside was set for its 40-year recertification right before the collapse on June 24.
Pushaw pointed out in her email that county governments would have the authority to revise that timeline.
“If an investigation determines that the collapse was caused – in part or in whole – by factors that could be mitigated via state-level policy change, Gov. DeSantis would certainly give due consideration to any proposed reforms that could prevent such a tragedy from happening again,” Pushaw added in her email.
Robaina said current lawmakers are consulting him for advice on what to do next after the Surfside tragedy.
“One of the first thing they’re all saying is we got to put back your provision that was removed without the ability to waive it,” he said. “No waiving. This thing needs to be law.”
Surfside city officials in the days after the collapse released a 2018 report by Morabito Consultants that alerted the condo board to “major structural damage” and blamed a major error in construction for years of corrosion.
An NBC News report from Thursday on the repealed condo regulations found that Champlain Towers South was $15.5 million short of making necessary repairs.
A spokesman for the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association declined to comment to NBC News for their report.