As state lawmakers reconvened Monday for a weeklong Special Session targeting property insurance reform, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava reminded each Legislative chamber’s leader that there are many other related issues that similarly need addressing, most notably the current housing affordability crisis and condominium safety.
In an open letter to Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls, Levine Cava called this week’s Special Session “provides the ideal venue” for lawmakers to take on those problems.
A solid start, she said, would be to boost benefits for builders who incorporate workforce and affordable housing into their projects and empower localities to directly provide solutions — including rent freezes and guaranteed tenant legal services — for the communities they serve.
“With so many families and individuals struggling in every corner of the state, we must do everything possible to meet their housing needs and protect their quality of life,” she said. “Therefore, I am calling on the Florida Legislature to enact policies that will provide local governments to enact rent stabilization measures and providing tenants the right to legal counsel when at risk for evictions.”
Early this month, the Miami-Dade County Commission unanimously approved a “Tenant Bill of Rights.” The ordinance, among other things, protects potential tenants from having their record of past evictions bar them from future renting and eases how tenants can bill landlords for repairs.
The item was the latest in a series of reforms the County Commission OK’d this year. Others include an ordinance mandating that landlords provide 60 days’ notice before rent increases of more than 5% and a Surfside-inspired law requiring condemned building owners to pay for the relocation and housing of residents.
Meanwhile in Tallahassee, three bills meant to bolster condo and apartment building safety died during the regular Legislative Session, which ended in March. Just one of the bills received a committee hearing.
With less than a month to go before the first anniversary of the collapsed Champlain Towers South condo in Surfside, Levine Cava said, the Legislature should “finally act on necessary condominium reforms.”
“We are taking every action we can in Miami-Dade County and have already adopted measures to improve building safety, but we need the support of the state Legislature to safeguard the more than 1 million condominiums in Florida,” she said.
“We hope you will consider legislation to increase requirements for building recertifications and condominium recertifications, permit local governments to elevate requirements for recertification, restrict the waiving of financial reserves meant for condo maintenance, and set aside funding to assist condo associations cover the cost of inspection and maintenance. Not only do these measures improve safety, but they would also help to diminish the instability of the condo insurance market which has been exacerbated in the wake of the Surfside tragedy.”
Levine Cava opened her letter offering guidance in the Legislature’s deliberations over property insurance. The market has grown so unstable and cost-prohibitive that companies are dropping policies, leaving the Florida market or going insolvent.
She offered a few solutions. To address rising reinsurance costs, which have many insurers struggling to provide coverage, the Legislature should expand the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, a tax-exempt state trust that reimburses residential property insurers for a portion of their catastrophic hurricane losses.
“It should also lower the threshold for insurance companies to tap into the fund,” she said.
To reduce an “excess of litigation for property insurance disputes,” which has led to mounting attorney fees and litigation costs for companies and policyholders, lawmakers should focus on reform that strikes “a balance between reducing frivolous lawsuits and allowing homeowners to address legitimate claims.”
“With Hurricane Season approaching and Miami-Dade’s unique vulnerability to extreme weather events, it is essential that homeowners have the ability to pursue lawful claims when an insurance company acts improperly,” she said. “Additionally, fraudulent insurance claims from unlicensed and unregulated bad actors have driven up rates for homeowners as well. The Legislature should file legislation this Special Session to crack down on fraudulent claims in order to further drive down costs.”
To rebuild competition and lower rates in the Florida insurance market, which the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. now dominates, Levine Cava said legislators “should consider requiring or incentivizing insurance companies that service other policies to sell homeowners insurance as well in order to prevent Citizens from becoming the sole insurer in the state.”