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DeSantis signs property insurance, Surfside bills from special session

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — As the special session on property and homeowners insurance drew to a close Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed two pieces of legislation focused on insurance reform, and an expanded session bill focused on reforms to prevent another tragedy like the Surfside collapse of 2021.

The session was called by the governor after an attempt to call a session through Senate procedures by state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, failed. The May special session saw the Florida Senate and Florida House passed bills for reform on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. Both bills were received by the governor’s office Thursday afternoon, and signed shortly after.

Senate Bill 2-D, Property Insurance, creates reforms that prevent insurers from automatically denying coverage to homeowners with older roofs and provides state funding to make homes more stormproof. The bill, as proposed, also limits attorneys fees in insurance litigation, according to previous coverage by WFLA.com.

However, Brandes told WFLA.com that the state’s insurance market needs more reform.

“To me, there’s nothing in this legislation right now that’s going to provide immediate relief, or even really the hope of rate relief, even in 18 to 24 months,” Brandes said Tuesday. “What we saw today was really solutions that had been proposed years ago and had we implemented them years ago, we wouldn’t be here.”

While the special session was convened, state lawmakers also pushed to pass reforms focused on condominium regulation, in response to a failed attempt at addressing the Surfside Collapse’s cause in the 2022 main legislative session back in March and April. On Tuesday, the legislature voted to expand the session to include the additional measures.

Senate Bill 4-D, Building Safety, according to previous reporting, would make condo associations perform “milestone inspections” at different points of a building’s life, and requires the associations to be responsible for the cost of inspections.

Additionally, the bill authorizes county commissioners to “adopt certain ordinances relating to repairs for substantial structural deterioration” while also requiring that local law enforcement “review and determine if a building is unsafe for human occupancy under certain circumstances.”

“This package represents the most significant reforms to Florida’s homeowners insurance market in a generation,” DeSantis said in a statement after signing the legislation. “These bills will help stabilize a problematic market, help Floridians harden their homes through the My Safe Florida Home Program, and pave the way for more choices for homeowners.”

The governor’s office also sent two summaries of the bill’s effects.

SB 2-D, the property insurance legislation, contains specific provisions to stabilize the market, according to the governor’s office. Those provisions are:

  • $2 billion in reinsurance relief through the Reinsurance to Assist Policy (RAP) program to benefit policyholders over the next two years. 
    • Requires insurance companies to file a supplemental rate filing once enrolled in the program to provide relief to policyholders. 
  • $150 million for the My Safe Florida Home Program to provide grants to Florida homeowners for hurricane retrofitting, making homes safer and more resistant to hurricane damage, which can result in premium discounts for those who participate in the program.
  • Prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage solely based on the age of a roof if the roof is less than 15 years old or if the roof is determined to have at least 5 years of useful life remaining. 
  • Requiring insurance companies to provide policyholders with a reasonable explanation if they deny or partially deny a claim and provides consumers with greater access to information during the claim adjustment process.
  • Creating a new standard for application of attorney fee multipliers which have been liberally applied, resulting in increased costs to consumers. 
  • Limiting the assignment of attorney’s fees in property insurance cases, disincentivizing frivolous claims.

The governor’s office release said SB 4-D, is intended to reform condos and increase safety for residents. It does so by:

  • Requiring inspections for all condominiums and cooperative buildings that are three stories or higher. 
    • For buildings within three miles of the coast, Phase 1 inspections must occur 25 years after initial occupancy and every 10 years after.
    • For all other buildings, Phase 1 inspections must occur 30 years after initial occupancy and every 10 years after.
    • If a Phase 1 inspection reveals substantial structural deterioration, a more intensive Phase 2 inspection is required. 
  • Requiring condominiums and cooperatives to conduct structural integrity reserve studies for buildings three stories or higher to ensure the funding necessary for future structural repairs is available and prohibits waiver of funding for certain structural reserves. 
  • Increasing transparency by requiring all structural inspections reports and reserve studies to be part of the associations’ official record and must be provided to potential purchasers of a unit. 

Now signed into law, the two bills from the special session take effect immediately, per the text of the bills.

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