Bill shortening statute of repose moves through Florida legislature

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Image taken by the Israel Defence Force team who assisted with the rescue and recovery efforts at the Surfside condo collapse

The Florida Senate has advanced a watered-down version of legislation shortening the deadline for homeowners to bring lawsuits over construction defects in single-family and multi-family residences, like the ones blamed in part in the Surfside condo disaster last summer, Florida Phoenix reports.

The bill (SB 736) addresses Florida’s “statute of repose,” which limits the time in which a homeowner can sue for defective construction. The current law allows as long as 10 years — and an earlier version of the bill would cut the time to five years.

However, the Senate on Feb. 10 set the time at seven years for latent defect in an amendment. Similar legislation (HB 586) is pending before the House Judiciary Committee.

The measure follows the June 24 collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium building in Surfside, which killed 98 people. A Miami-Dade County grand jury blamed factors including known structural damage, plus flaws in design and construction, the published report says.

Other legislation (SB 1702), pending in both chambers, would require periodic “milestone” inspections of tall building in hopes of spotting and fixing problems before they result in tragedy.

The Associated General Contractors and Florida Homebuilders Association, representing the industry, hope that SB 736 will reduce litigation frequency and restrain insurance costs.  Travis Hutson, a Republican legislator who is also a developer, sponsored the bill

Notably, the proposed law allows for three year extension to 10 years and an unlimited deadline for multi-family structures if litigants can provide evidence “anyone involved in the construction fraudulently concealed a defect. However, the lawsuit would need to begin within a year of the defect’s discovery.

“The amended bill defines ‘single-family’ residence as a structure not exceeding three above-ground stories that can house as many as three families,” Florida Phoenix reported.

“The bill allows builders to offer to repair or otherwise settle claims, but Hutson said plaintiffs’ attorneys are encouraging foregoing repair offers in favor of cash settlements. Insurers find it cheaper to settle.”

“It’s very similar to what we saw in the roofing business,” Hutson said, “where people were coming out saying, ‘We can get you a free roof if only you sign here and we’ll say there’s hail damage.’ It’s now moved into the actual building world, and it’s a problem we’re trying to get ahead of.”

He said that Florida has rewritten its building codes, which now rank among the “strongest … in the nation.”

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