It’s been nearly nine months since the building collapse in Surfside killed 98 people. Florida lawmakers promised they would pass reforms to prevent something similar from happening but they couldn’t make a deal.
A disagreement between the House and Senate over money stopped a bipartisan bill from passing. Lawmakers couldn’t agree on how much money condo associations needed to have in back up to pay for maintenance and repairs and when they needed to have it.
Victim families can’t understand why nothing will be done.
The last few months have been heartbreaking for Martin Langesfeld, who lost his older sister and brother-in-law in the collapse.
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“They just got married a few months before. They were starting life in their new apartment,” Langesfeld said.
He heard the news over the weekend and couldn’t believe it.
“It just shows in the state of Florida, money is more important than lives,” Langesfeld said.
Nine months ago, NBC 6 Investigators revealed the Champlain Towers South had less than $1 million in reserves but had around $15 million in needed repairs according to engineers hired by the towers.
The official cause of the collapse is still under investigation but the towers fell right before the association rallied owners to begin construction work.
There are more than 1.5 million condo units in Florida and their owners are very powerful in the state capital of Tallahassee. Current law allows some condo associations to keep fees low by not having backup funds to pay for maintenance.
“When we came up here we came up here with one goal, that was to pass legislation in regards to condominium reform that was going to make a difference,” said Miami-Dade Rep. Daniel Perez, who sponsored the Florida House version of the bill.
Every lawmaker in the House approved of his version but it had a key difference from the Senate’s version, which was approved by every lawmaker there.
Perez wanted to require condo associations to study how many repairs they needed in a “reserve study” and require the buildings to have enough money to pay for the repairs within three years. It could raise the cost for condo owners by hundreds or possibly thousands of dollars a year upfront, depending on the specific building.
Condos would then have money set aside for any major structural damage found in the study.
The Senate took those requirements out and Perez wouldn’t accept the changed bill.
“That was not a negotiable piece for us. We were never going to negotiate the waiving of reserves because that is part of the problem that caused the incident at Surfside,” said Perez.
The sponsor of the Senate’s version, North Florida Sen. Jennifer Bradley, told NBC 6 “the Senate product ensured safety of our state’s condominiums while not creating crushing financial burdens on the millions of Floridians living in condominiums.”
Bradley tried to pass a “narrower version” of the bill but the House wouldn’t accept it.
Both chambers agreed upon requiring more safety inspections and transparency measures but they couldn’t agree on the reserve issue.
A task force from the Florida Bar was formed after the collapse and Bill Sklar was tapped to lead it. Sklar tells NBC 6 while everyone had the same goal the details couldn’t be agreed upon before the legislative session ended.
Sklar said the Senate worried many condo associations would go bankrupt if they were required to come up with all the reserves needed within three years. He said a starting point for the next session would be requiring half the money within five years, giving associations a longer and slower path to ramp up their savings accounts.
“While the ultimate goal of chair Perez and the House leadership was correct, I’m not faulting them on that, their methodology was not viable,” Sklar said.
NBC 6 reached out to Gov. Ron DeSantis’s office for a comment on the legislature failing to send a final product to his desk but we have not yet heard back.
Families like the Langesfelds, meanwhile, are left worried for others as lawmakers promise to take up the issue again next year.
“It’s pretty insulting that they say they’ll work on it next year. When next year it could be too late,” Langesfeld said.