South Florida condo ownership is at risk of financial collapse. Climate change makes it worse.

The Palm Beach Post
March 26, 2024

Florida condominium owners are getting buffeted from every direction and it’s starting to hurt. Flooding, hurricanes, soaring insurance premiums, and now a new state law designed to protect residents physically but which could kill them financially, are intensifying into a powerful storm of consequences of past inaction.

The state needs to help condo owners through this storm. But more importantly for the long term, Florida must launch a concerted effort to strategize not just condo repairs but the whole collection of crises that threaten to make life in paradise miserable.

This effort needs above all to include leadership in counteracting global warming trends, by ending reliance on fossil fuels, to such an extent that we serve as an example to other states and nations. These temperatures rises are increasing the frequency of floods and force of hurricanes. Sea walls won't cut it. Science makes it clear there will be no Florida if we don't reverse course.

The warming has been melting glaciers, and not just raising seas to levels that flood South Florida streets and negate all drainage, but providing the Atlantic with the heat from which hurricanes draw their strength. The weather, in turn, finds an easy target in weak construction, the result of construction industries resisting tougher building codes, and of consumers resisting the outlays that construction improvements would require.

At the same time, Florida lawmakers have failed to create an environment where insurers can thrive without see-sawing between gouging on premiums and deserting the state altogether. Over the past year we've seen our Legislature hand the industry an anti-consumer law that makes it extremely hard for customers to sue insurers who don't perform, and which gave consumers nothing in return in the way of price restraints. Instead the Legislature needs to consider innovative solutions, like the one described in these pages recently, that would split hurricane insurance from other types of claims and have the state itself handle the hurricane coverage.

The state and its municipalities also need to rethink their continued permitting of houses and high-rises along defenseless, eroding shorelines. Equally obvious, those who chose to live in such locations must bear the bear the consequences and not expect the government to bail them out.

The building inspection and reserve account requirements taking effect this year, in the wake of Surfside’s Champlain Tower South collapse of 2021, make perfect sense. As noted in an op-ed piece March 23 by Miami lawyer Joseph Hernandez, these requirements could force steep repair costs and major increases in monthly maintenance fees. Thousands of condo owners across Florida might be left with have no choice financially but to sell out to developers for the land value of these shoreline sites and flee for the hills — while new condos get built in place of the old ones and the cycle continues.

All of these crises can be tied to one cause: Floridians' failure to accept reality, over decades.

But for Florida's 1.5 million condo owners, it should be increasingly clear that there's more to this than a quick fix. The owners, the Legislature, and the construction and insurance industries must now join to find solutions that reflect the urgency of these times.

It's the hidden price paradise exacts. We can put off responsibility for only so long.

*This was republished with permission from The Palm Beach Post. Click to access the publication.

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