2019 Victories: Remote Notaries, Open Permits, Environment & More
The 2019 Florida Legislature passed two bills many Florida Realtors' members had requested. One allows the use of remote online notaries and the other provides remedies for open and expired permits.
"Our members spoke loud and clear about the problem of open permits and the benefit of remote notaries, and I'm happy to say lawmakers listened," says Eric Sain, 2019 president of Florida Realtors and district sales manager with Illustrated Properties in Palm Beach. "But the really good news is that these two bills were only a part of our legislative successes this year. We're also celebrating assignment of benefits (AOB) reform, funding to improve water quality and another cut to the business rent tax."
This end-of-session report covers key real estate legislation sent to the governor for final approval.
2019 legislative victories
- Remedies to open and expired permits — Open and expired permits can delay a closing, and, in some cases, kill a deal because of the uncertainty associated with them. To address the problem, HB 447 allows local governments to close a permit six years after its issuance as long as no apparent safety hazards exist. It also prevents local governments from penalizing property owners for an open permit that was applied for by a previous owner. Effective: October 1, 2019.
- Approval of online remote notaries — Many states allow the use of online remote notaries in real estate transactions to make closings easier, faster and more convenient for distant parties. Thanks to HB 409, Florida now joins this group of modern-thinking states. Effective: January 1, 2020.
- Curbing AOB abuse to keep insurance affordable — Property insurance assignment of benefits (AOB) came about to reduce insurance claim burdens for property owners. However, some contractors and attorneys abused the AOB process by overcharging for repairs and suing insurance carriers when they refuse to pay, leading to higher premiums for everyone. HB 7065 limits contractors' ability to receive payment for their attorney fees if the claim is settled or won in court. This is commonly referred to as one-way attorney fees and the primary incentive behind AOB fraud. Please note: All bill provisions become effective on July 1, 2019, except for provisions relating to attorney fees, which become effective when the bill is signed into law.
- $682 million for environmental projects — Communities throughout Florida were devastated last year by environmental problems such as blue-green algae and red tide. The Legislature responded with significant amounts of funding for environmental projects designed to address these issues. The proposed funding includes $322 million for both Everglades restoration and the early planning, design and construction of the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir. Also included: $40 million to complete the raising of Tamiami Trail, $100 million for springs restoration, $50 million for beach restoration projects, $10 million for a red tide/blue green algae task force and $25 million for a septic-to-sewer cost-share program. Effective: July 1, 2019.
- Further reduction to the business rent tax — Businesses throughout Florida will save more than $65 million each year due to a .2% reduction of the business rent tax. The new state tax rate on commercial leases will be 5.5%, down from 5.7% in 2018 and 6% in 2017. Effective: January 1, 2020.
- More than $200 million for affordable housing projects — Lawmakers allocated $200 million from the state and local government housing trust funds for affordable housing programs. This includes $115 million to assist Panhandle residents whose properties were devastated by Hurricane Michael. Effective: July 1, 2019.
- Continued funding for LIDAR mapping — The budget includes language that allows the Division of Emergency Management to continue spending the $15 million currently being used for LIDAR (light detection and ranging) mapping. LIDAR is a next-generation mapping technique and has the potential to lower flood insurance rates throughout Florida. Effective: July 1, 2019.
- Preventing unlicensed real estate activity — The Legislature allocated up to $500,000 from the Professional Regulation Trust Fund to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) to combat unlicensed real estate activity. Effective: July 1, 2019.
Other bills that passed of interest to Realtors
- Fighting red tide through research and technology — 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. Lawmakers appropriated $3 million a year for the next six years to fund the initiative. Effective: July 1, 2019.
- Banning local governments from restricting vegetable gardens — SB 82 prevents local governments from regulating homeowners' vegetable gardens. The issue stemmed from a couple in Miami Shores who had to uproot their vegetable garden due to a local ordinance. This does not apply to homeowners associations (HOAs). Effective: July 1, 2019.
- Flood insurance matters — HB 617 requires insurers that do not provide flood insurance to provide a disclosure at initial issuance and each renewal regarding the importance of flood insurance. Effective: July 1, 2019.
- Property insurance changes — HB 301 includes a host of insurance revisions. The bill removes the $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. Effective: July 1, 2019.
- Property owner bill of rights and tree trimming — SB 1400 requires county appraisers to publish a list of constitutionally protected property rights on their websites. The bill also allows 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. Effective: July 1, 2019.
- Providing more structure for beach restoration projects — 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 exist. Effective: July 1, 2019.
- More options for wetlands mitigation projects—HB 521 allows developers in areas lacking private wetlands mitigation credits to partner with local governments to mitigate on publicly-owned conservation land. Effective: July 1, 2019.
- Fire and life safety systems for condos — HB 647 extends the deadline for high-rise condominiums that must be retrofitted with fire sprinklers or another engineered life safety system from Dec. 31, 2019, to Dec. 31, 2023. Effective: July 1, 2019.
- Texting while driving ban gets tougher — HB 107 strengthens 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. Effective: July 1, 2019.
- Military affairs — SB 620, in its original form, included a provision that capped the total money owed by an active duty service member who was entering into a lease at no more than the total of two months' rent. Although the bill passed, the language pertaining to the cap was removed from the bill. Effective: July 1, 2019.
Bills that did not pass
- Private property rights/short-term rentals — SB 824 and HB 987 were companion bills supported by Florida Realtors aimed at protecting the right of private property owners to rent their property on a short-term basis because many local governments continue to enact ordinances that discourage short-term rentals and infringe on this fundamental right.
- Emotional support animals — HB 721 would have provided clarity for emotional support animals. It would have created a legal definition for these animals and would have required an emotional support animal certificate to come from a licensed doctor who has a relationship with the patient.
- Requiring online retailers to collect sales tax— SB 1112 would have required remote (out-of-state) sellers to collect and remit sales tax to the state on purchases made by Florida residents. The revenue gained from collecting the sales tax could have then been used to offset other taxes such as the business rent tax. Current law says that sales tax from remote sellers is legally owed to the state by the Floridian making the purchase, but few residents know about this requirement and even fewer pay it.
- Condo transfer fee background costs — HB 1075 contained several items related to HOAs and condominium associations. Of note to Realtors was an allowance for associations to charge a buyer or renter the "actual cost" of a background check plus a $100 administrative fee. Transfer fees are currently capped at $100 per applicant.
- Septic tank inspections — HB 85 would have required all homeowners in Florida to have septic tank inspections every five years.
- Water quality improvements — HB 973 would have transferred septic tank oversight from the Department of Health to the Department of Environmental Protection. The bill would have given the two state agencies one year to suggest recommendations on how to best transfer this massive responsibility.
- Rent control — HB 6053 and SB 1390 sought to allow local governments to adopt rental control ordinances.
- Seller disclosure — HB 163 and SB 1254 would have required sellers to provide buyers a written disclosure if the property is located within a dependent special district. The bill also gave buyers a three-day right of rescission after the disclosure was provided.
- Landlord disclosure — HB 153 and SB 1248 would have required landlords to provide prospective tenants with a "physical" copy of the restrictive covenants governing the use and occupancy of the premises.
- Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) — HB 163 and SB 282 sought to expand the list of qualifying improvements under the PACE program to include septic tank improvements or replacements.
- Swimming pool safety features — HB 805 and SB 724 would have required all residential pools in Florida to be equipped with two of the following safety features when a residential property with a pool is sold: 1) pool barrier, 2) pool cover, 3) door and window alarms, 4) self-closing and self-latching doors and 5) a pool alarm.
© 2019 Florida Realtors®