Faster permits, more detailed flood disclosure and more results from legislative session

The state Legislature just made things easier for developers who complain about the length of time it takes to get building permits.

Although Tallahassee killed a bill that would have limited how many landlords can raise rent and nixed a bill that would have given Fort Myers control over mangrove preservation, it provided protections for people buying homes in flood zones.

Perhaps the biggest gift to developers was HB 267, which forces planning staff to approve building permits in record time. Reducing those timelines helps developers who want to build while housing prices are good and competition is tight.

Rep. Tiffany Esposito (R-District 77), whose district covers most of Lee County, introduced the bill. She boasts that she has spent her career “fighting to keep the heavy hand of government out of the way of job creators.” But opponents say the law’s faster approval process will burden local planners working through piles of building applications for single-family homes, townhouses, condominiums and other projects.

The law requires applications submitted by an engineer must be approved in 10 days or the department must issue the applicant a letter describing the problems with the application. If the building department doesn’t issue the letter or the permit, it’s automatically approved, for instance.

“Our general objection to these [is that] arbitrary shortening of time limits doesn’t allow local planning departments to give the permits the scrutiny they deserve,” says Paul Owens, executive director of 1000 Friends of Florida. “They wave the flag of economic development and job creation, but what they’re doing is putting a lot more people and property in harm’s way, which adds to the upward pressure on property insurance rates.”

Protecting SWFL businesses after cyberattacks

HB 473, filed by Rep. Mike Giallombardo (R-District 79) provides immunity for counties, municipalities and other entities in the event of a cyberattack—provided they comply with cybersecurity standards.

This is good news for government agencies, businesses and nonprofits that must protect personal identifying information on their servers. To be immune, the entity must comply with the notice requirements of Florida’s data breach notification law and maintain a cybersecurity program that tracks certain industry standards and legal requirements. There’s something else businesses like about the law: It does not require perfection, but rather “substantial” compliance or alignment with standards.

Child labor laws loosened

HB 49 is good news for kids who want to work and companies that want to hire them. It’s now legal for 16- and 17-year-olds to work 30-hour weeks, an increase from the 15 hours of previous years. The Senate Rules Committee amended the bill to say minors who work may receive a hardship exception if they’re enrolled in a virtual education program.

There are limitations to how long they can work, however. They can work up to 30 hours a week when school is in session and can’t work before 6:30 am and after 11 pm when school is scheduled the next day. On any school day, minors 16 and 17 years of age who are not enrolled in a career education program cannot work during school hours; 15-year-olds are not allowed to work before 7 am or after 7 pm when they have school the next day. They cannot work more than 15 hours during a school week.

This year’s bill is not as accommodating as a proposed law introduced last year that would have allowed employers to work teenagers for unlimited hours per day or per week—including overnight shifts on school days.

If they don’t ask, tell anyway

Lawmakers also passed laws to force disclosure by real estate agents and sellers of property. HB 1049 requires property sellers in flood zones to disclose not only whether that property has suffered damage from flooding, but the number of times the property has been flooded. The owner must reveal their flood insurance and whether they’ve ever filed a claim for flood damage. The seller must say whether the owner has received federal assistance for flood damage.

The disclosure requirement could warn off developers considering building in dangerous areas, Owens said.

“When readily available, that information may discourage further development in coastal, high-hazard areas and floodplains,” Owens says. “It’s that continued development in those areas that’s a factor in pushing up insurance costs in Florida. This will make buyers and builders more discriminating when deciding where to build—and rebuild—in Florida.”

Regulating unscrupulous movers

Florida consumers have been scammed in the past by moving company websites that offer customers a low estimate and deposit price, and then demand additional exorbitant fees after taking their belongings hostage. (See “Let the Mover Beware” in the September 2023 issue of Gulfshore Business).

The Legislature, answering calls from Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody to regulate moving brokers, passed SB 304. The law now prohibits those companies and networks from claiming to be actual movers without first registering with the state. The bill would require brokers to make specified disclosures before providing services.

The legislation empowers the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to penalize moving brokers and companies found to be acting unscrupulously.

On the other hand…

The Legislature, however, failed to pass bills that would have limited rent increases, reduced parking for affordable housing units, put term limits on county commissioners and other proposed legislation.

HB 1221 died on second reading calendar: It would have changed the definition of “urban sprawl” into a meaningless definition, opponents said. It would have allowed construction of neighborhoods far from centers of populations, such as in agricultural lands and natural resource areas.

HB 31 died in Civil Justice Subcommittee: The bill would have limited rental increases to 30% and once a year. The bill would also authorize landlords to terminate rental agreements or bring action for noncompliance even if a tenant provides partial payment of past-due rent.

SB 32 died in Rules Committee: It would have delegated mangrove protection to Lee, Charlotte, Collier and other local governments. The bill required counties—and coastal towns such as Fort Myers—to demonstrate that they have sufficient resources and procedures for the adequate administration and enforcement of a mangrove-regulatory program.

State law still requires property owners to obtain permits before cutting mangroves; state law also requires property owners to plant them elsewhere on the property.

SB 298 died in House: It would have authorized the Department of Environmental Protection to provide Lee, Collier and other coastal counties with grants to fund saltwater intrusion vulnerability assessments. Seawater from the Gulf is entering wells that tap into the freshwater aquifer. Farmers can’t water crops with aquifer water that is saline, for instance.

SB 500 died in Banking and Insurance Committee: It provided for surplus requirements for residential property insurers. It would have increased the minimum surplus requirement for certain new insurers selling residential property insurance.

SB 386 died in Community Affairs Committee: It required local governments to reduce parking requirements necessary for development approval for “Live Local” developments where at least 75% of the residential units will be affordable for at least 30 years and the development is located within half a mile of a major transportation hub.

HB 57 died in second reading: It would have limited county commissioners to eight years in elected office “not withstanding the terms of any county charter to the contrary.”

SB 102 died in Banking and Insurance: It would have created a Property Insurance Commission. Part of the Legislature’s ongoing efforts to reform the troubled Office of Insurance Regulation, the bill also called for the election, rather than the appointment, of the insurance commissioner; banned property insurance carriers from claiming insolvency in Florida if they are active in another state; and other reforms.

SB 178 died in Banking and Insurance: It would have created a “nonadversarial” procedure for property insurance disputes. “There is a particular need for an informal, nonthreatening forum for helping parties to resolve claim disputes” between property owners and insurance companies, the bill’s authors said.

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