Florida’s 2019 Legislative Session saw a multitude of top Florida Realtors priorities passing or, under the budget, funded at significant levels. In addition to the victories, many other bills will affect Realtors and their clients in different ways.
Below is a run-down on some of these new laws and initiatives that become effective on July 1. Other legislative wins, such as remedies to open/expired permits, the use of online remote notaries and a third cut to the business rent tax, passed during the 2019 session of the Florida Legislature but don’t become effective until later this year or the start of the new year.
Assignment of benefits reform
Needed reforms to the insurance process known as Assignment of Benefits (AOB) passed this year in the form of HB 7065. The new law includes limitations on the ability of contractors to recover attorney fees if they are successful in court. This is commonly referred to as one-way attorney fees and the primary incentive behind AOB abuse.
Why it matters to Realtors: These reforms could produce lower insurance rates in different parts of the state, making homeownership more affordable. The state-run Citizens Property Insurance, for example, has already lowered an earlier request to increase rates.
Historic amounts of funding have been set aside to preserve Florida’s natural resources and combat environmental problems such as blue-green algae and red tide. More than $625 million will be used for things like Everglades restoration, completion of the project that will raise Tamiami Trail, springs restoration, beach restoration projects, a red tide/blue green algae task force and a septic-to-sewer cost-share program.
Why it matters to Realtors: Florida’s natural resources are one of the biggest reasons people visit and move to the state. If problems like red tide get worse, it will negatively impact Florida’s real estate industry. The changes may also offer relief to homeowners who live near coastal areas affected by red tide and inland rivers that must deal with the impact of green algae blooms.
Money for affordable housing projects
The new state budget includes $200 million for affordable housing programs. This includes $115 million to assist Panhandle residents whose properties were devastated by Hurricane Michael.
Why it matters to Realtors: A lack of affordable housing options is one of the biggest issues currently facing Florida’s economy. When workers can’t find affordable places to live, they leave, shrinking communities and making them less attractive to others looking to move to the area.
Preventing unlicensed real estate activity
The Legislature set aside up to $500,000 to combat unlicensed real estate activity.
Why it matters to Realtors: Unlicensed people performing real estate services can cause serious financial harm to unknowing clients, ruining lives and reflecting poorly on the Realtor profession.
Property owner bill of rights and tree trimming
New measures contained in SB 1400 require county property appraisers to publish a list of constitutionally protected property rights on their websites. They also allow property owners to trim or remove trees on their property without consequence as long as they have a letter from a certified arborist or landscape architect stating the tree is a danger.
Why it matters to Realtors: Private property rights are the foundation of homeownership, and Realtors have an obligation to protect those rights.
Fighting red tide
In addition to environmental funding included in the state budget, a new initiative created in SB 1552 establishes the Florida Red Tide Mitigation and Technology Development Initiative – a partnership between the state and Mote Marine Laboratory to develop technologies that can control and mitigate red tide and its impact. It sets aside $3 million a year for the next six years to fund the project.
Why it matters to Realtors: Coastal and surrounding communities throughout Florida were devastated last year by red tide, which slowed tourism and hurt local real estate markets. This initiative’s goal is to help find a solution to the recurring problem.
Banning vegetable garden restrictions
A new law established in SB 82 prevents local governments from regulating homeowners’ vegetable gardens. The issue arose after a Miami Shores couple had to uproot their vegetable garden due to a local ordinance. However, this does not apply to homeowners association (HOAs) rules.
Why it matters to Realtors: Similar to the measures in SB 1400, the new law also aims to protect private property rights. When people buy homes, they expect to be able to use the property how they see fit, and limitations on their rights can drive potential buyers away.
Flood insurance matters
New measures in HB 617 require insurers that do not provide flood insurance to provide a disclosure at initial issuance and at each renewal regarding the importance of flood insurance.
Why it matters to Realtors: Homeowners often find themselves at odds with their insurers when disaster strikes, incorrectly thinking their property insurance policy protected them against flooding. A disclosure regarding flood coverage and its availability helps homeowners make informed decisions about their insurance choices.
Changes to property insurance
HB 301 contains a host of insurance revisions. It includes a $100 cap for insurers who provide loss control/mitigation goods or services (e.g. a temperature/humidity sensor) to policyholders and makes it easier for owners who have dwellings valued at $700,000 or more to obtain surplus lines of coverage.
Why it matters to Realtors: Homebuyers often have questions about the insurance options available to them. Realtors who are aware of the new insurance revisions can be a more informed resource for their clients.
Providing more structure for beach restoration projects
Language contained in HB 325 creates a five-year work plan for beach renourishment projects throughout Florida based on a specific set of criteria. The new approach is intended to remove the arbitrary selection of projects that currently exists.
Why it matters to Realtors: Florida’s beaches are the lifeblood of its coastal communities and the vast abundance of them are what make the state so special. Taking care of every one of them means more reasons to live in and visit the state.
New options for wetlands mitigation projects
Changes contained in HB 521 allow developers in areas lacking private wetlands mitigation credits to partner with local governments to mitigate on publicly-owned conservation land.
Why it matters to Realtors: In order for a community to grow it needs to be able to develop. But that development needs to balance growth with the need to protect and preserve the environment. This new law will help more communities find that balance, so they can continue to grow.
Fire and life safety systems for condos
Language contained in HB 7103 extends the deadline for high-rise condominiums to be retrofitted with fire sprinklers or another engineered life safety system, postponing the effective date from Dec. 31, 2019, to Dec. 31, 2023.
Why it matters to Realtors: The deadline for condominiums to retrofit or install fire systems was fast-approaching and would have left many condominiums out of compliance with the law. Sellers and Realtors would have faced uncertainty in any real estate transactions involving units in these condominiums.
Texting while driving ban gets tougher
Changes contained in HB 107 strengthen Florida’s existing ban on texting, emailing and instant messaging while driving. The bill changes current enforcement of the ban from a secondary offense to a primary offense, meaning law enforcement can now stop a vehicle solely for texting while driving.
Why it matters to Realtors: Many Realtors live on their phones and, at the same time, drive from property to property to meet clients and conduct business. Going forward, they must be extra careful on the road.
© 2019 Florida Realtors®, Tom Butler