State Rep. Vicki Lopez, as promised, dropped a massive bill to address condo board corruption, a measure that would create stronger criminal penalties for officials who engage in kickbacks or election fraud. It also sets a new level of transparency.
Lopez, appearing on the Anti-Social podcast, said the 117-page HB1021 – dubbed Condo 3.0 – is the next logical step in tweaking Florida laws in the wake of the collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside in June 2021. She filed it just before Christmas.
The representative of District 113, which includes Key Biscayne, fashioned the bill after conducting listening tours throughout the state. She was part of a Key Biscayne town hall on the issue in November.
While she said there are a lot of good condo boards where members volunteer their time and work tirelessly to make their building a better place to live, her bill addresses the “bad actors.”
“They were placed there by the condo owners to represent their voice and they had become adversaries of condo owners,” she said.
Many complaints from condo owners to Lopez were about boards refusing to turn over records – even when the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) ordered them to do so. The new law requires that condominiums of more than 25 units must post their budgets, meeting minutes and contracts to a website.
“It’s a game-changer,” Lopez said.
In the last two sessions the focus was on making sure another Surfside never happened again by requiring “milestone” inspections to catch and fix structural defects — and to ensure that prudent reserve funds were available to make those repairs.
The central part of her bill would give state regulators more authority to hold rogue condo boards accountable. “Now the same jurisdiction that they (DBPR) had when the developer first developed the property is the same they’re going to have now,” Lopez said.
Lopez said when it came to elections, residents who lived part-time in another country were often disenfranchised. Or there was outright fraud at the ballot box.
The bill adds criminal penalties for election fraud that are the same as existing penalties for political offices. “That’s how important it is to us that these elections are done properly,” Lopez said. “I think that is going to send a strong message.”
The bill also makes it a third-degree felony punishable up to five years in prison for any board officer, director or manager of an association who unlawfully solicits, accepts anything or service as a kickback. Property managers and condo board members would have to disclose any conflict of interest. Included would be “favors” done for board members by condo employees.
“We learned from many property managers that either the board members or the property managers have been doing business with their family members, their business partners, and whomever,” Lopez said. Even “favors” done for board members by building employees could be prosecuted, she said, if her bill becomes law.
Key Biscayne is not immune to allegations of condo corruption. A property manager at EmeraldBay is charged with funneling maintenance fees into a private company she formed.
The president of EmeraldBay at the time – Louisa Conway – said property manager Maria Ferrer Rodriguez resigned due to illness when police revealed an investigation into a misappropriation of funds in May.
“I’m a little worried about your Condo 3.0,” Conway told Lopez at the November town hall. Conway, a former Village Council candidate who remains a political firebrand, was voted out as Board president of EmeraldBay in June.
A similar measure has been sponsored in the Florida Senate by fellow Republican, Sen. Jennifer Bradley of Fleming Island and Sen. Jason Pizzo of Miami, a Democrat.
Lopez is also co-sponsoring an unrelated bill, HB1029, to create a pilot program where condo owners and associations can obtain home-hardening grants – already available to homeowners – through the My Safe Florida Home program.
“Once we harden these condominium buildings, the insurance rates will go down,” Lopez said.