Veto bad bill shielding Florida builders from liability for poor construction

Legislation that could wreak financial damage on homeowners associations sits on Gov. Rick Scott's desk awaiting a decision over the next few days.

Senate Bill 1196, sponsored by Bradenton Sen. Mike Bennett, and House Bill 1013, from Miami Rep. Frank Artiles, pits developers against homeowner associations with builder-friendly protections against payments to repair poor work on common-area infrastructure.

This lopsided shield for developers focuses on the legal idea of "implied warranty," a fair and vital protection for homeowners who purchase property later found to be defective. The measure would essentially allow builders to cut corners on construction to lower costs and maximize profits without liability, with the bill stating that implied warranty does not pertain to "offsite improvements" including roads, sidewalks and utilities. Homeowners would thus be forced to pay for repairs on those when the builder should accept responsibility.

This anti-consumer legislation also raises constitutional questions, seeking to preempt a lawsuit now before the Florida Supreme Court. In that case, which sparked the bill, a Central Florida homeowners association sued a developer seeking to recover $600,000 in repairs to an inferior drainage system and broken roadways.

Since lower courts offered differing opinions on whether implied warranty covers construction outside a home, even a driveway, the case ended up in the state Supreme Court. As such, a high court decision in favor of HOAs would expand the definition of implied warranties beyond a home's four walls to include offsite improvements.

Bennett contends this bill does not protect developers but simply reaffirms the original law on implied warranty. We disagree. In defending his bill, Artiles trotted out the tired canard about "activist judges" siding with trial lawyers in punishing home builders. What about fairness to home buyers? And their rights as consumers? Shouldn't builders be held accountable for their entire product?

Why didn't the Legislature wait for a Supreme Court decision before this attempt at a preemptive strike? Is this an attempt to intimidate justices and influence a ruling?

Developers create homeowners associations in order to provide amenities and infrastructure that residents share. Homeowners pay regular dues to cover maintenance costs and upgrades but should not be responsible for repairs due to poor construction.

"It's the most self-serving piece of legislation ever promoted," Doug Wilson, president of Lakewood Ranch's Advanced Management, told Herald reporter Nick Williams for Wednesday's article on the issue. The property management company handles 140 community associations and 28,000 units in the Manatee-Sarasota area.

"It's like a 'get home free' card for contractors," Wilson further stated. "The normal responsibility to stand behind their work is eliminated."

With more than 18 years of service with the Florida Legislative Alliance, which advises government officials on regulations covering condominium and homeowner associations, Wilson is very familiar with the state Senate and House. "Self-serving" is an appropriate description.

Thousands of homeowners have already sent Scott emails in opposition to this bill, requesting a veto. Additional messages can be sent to the governor at Rick.Scott@eog.myflorida.com. Or call 850-717-9238.

A business-friendly state need not be anti-consumer. This bill should be vetoed.