Sunday, March 27, 2022

Senator TRAVIS HUTSON's self serving SB 736 construction defect bill "DIED" March 14th -- three cheers!

Yet another crazy, pro-industry, very bad bill sponsored by our self-serving State Senator TRAVIS HUTSON (R-St. Augustine), Viee President of HUTSON COMPANIES, has been halted. 

After 98 people died in the Surfside, Florida condominium collapse, builders lusted after special interest legislation that would cover their, uh, assets.

Our porcine Republican State Senator TRAVIS HUTSON's industry-backed SB 736 would have halved the deadline for filing a claim of construction defects. 

Senator HUTSON is a developer -- this bill would have benefitted his family business and construction contractors and architects. 

Senator HUTSON's mafia-style legislative tactics are a stench in the nostrils of our State and Nation.

Luckily, he is term-limited, but he's done lasting damage to our institutions, 

Beloved former Folio Weekly Editor for nineteen years, Anne Schindler of First Coast News, first exploded this rascal's self-seeking villainy.

The Senate watered down the bill, as reported by Florida Politics and Florida Phoenix.  

The Senate passed his bill, but the House passed a different version on March 9.

The Senate on March 12 records that the bill was:

Indefinitely postponed and withdrawn from consideration

On March 14, SB 736 "Died in return messages."

I saw nothing about our local State Senator's bad legislation that would have benefitted bis family business in the incredible shrinking St. Augustkne Record.

Wonder why?


From First Coast News:

'Why are we protecting people who do this?' Florida bill would reduce time for homeowners to file claims against builders

A bill by Northeast Florida Sen. Travis Hutson would sharply limit homeowners' ability to file construction defect claims for hidden structural flaws.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Twelve seconds. That’s how long it took to turn a 40-year-old condo to dust, and claim the lives of nearly 100 people.

The Surfside tragedy horrified observers in a country where a building's structural safety is rarely questioned. Many thought it would prompt Florida lawmakers to take a fresh look at preventing – and punishing – construction defects.

A bill moving quickly through the 2022 legislative session tackles the issue of defective construction, but critics say it's moving the state in the wrong direction.

Proposed by Northeast Florida Sen. Travis Hudson (R-St. Augustine), Senate Bill 736 dramatically reduces the time a home builder is responsible for construction defects. For single family homes, it cuts that time in half – from 10 years to five. It makes no exceptions for intentional fraud, or for violations of building and fire safety codes.

“That will essentially make Florida the least consumer-friendly state in the nation,” attorney Rick Nutter told the Community Affairs Committee Wednesday morning. “This type of five-year bar will absolutely prohibit a homeowner from any recourse on what's typically their largest investment.”

Hutson said his goal is to make the process of resolving construction complaints easier, reducing the need for litigation, and keeping insurance rates for builders and developers from rising due to claims. The bill is backed the state's powerful homebuilder and developer lobby.

Speaking on behalf of the Florida Home Builders Association, attorney Kari Hebrank told committee members, “one of the biggest problems that the industry is now facing is that subcontractors cannot afford the rising costs of liability insurance as a result of Chapter 558 [construction defect] claims.”

RELATED: Miami judge says summer trial likely for lawsuits in deadly condo collapse

But Attorney Neil O’Brien said shortening the time to bring claims ignores the fact that construction defects can take years to surface. “They're not going to show up in four years," he told an earlier meeting of the Judiciary Committee. "It's going to take 7, 8, 9, 10, maybe even 12 years in some instances for these damages to show up.”

Though hidden, O'Brien said, the defects can be dangerous and expensive. “I see these issues on a daily basis with builders who knowingly violate the code, skip important steps in construction, steps that lead to catastrophic structural damages," he said. "These structures will collapse if left unattended, just like Surfside."

Under Hutson's bill, the clock to file claims would also start running sooner. The window to file construction defect claims, known as the period of repose, currently doesn’t open until the last of these events occurs: Completion of the contract, possession by the owner, or the issuance of certificate of occupancy. The new bill would start the clock when the first one occurred.

In cases where a home isn’t immediately sold – a model home, or a cold real estate market -- O’Brien said, “there's a possibility that their statute of repose has expired before they've even moved into the house.”

Sen. Gary Farmer (D-Lighthouse Point) expressed his opposition to the bill by holding up pictures of his own house, showing his colleagues extensive wood rot from a design flaw.

“This is reality," he said, holding the pictures aloft. "This is what it looks like. It's not often as severe as Surfside -- that's the worst possible scenario. But why are we protecting people who do this, hide this? And why are we punishing homeowners who are completely innocent? They didn't know! That's why it's [called] a ‘latent’ defect.”

Martin Langesfeld, whose sister Nicole and brother-in-law Luis Sadovnic were among the 98 people killed in the Surfside collapse, has been making the trip from South Florida to Tallahassee since November to oppose Senate bill 736.

“She moved into that building two months before, ready to start her life. My sister was crushed to death in a place she called home,” he said. “They took everything from me.”

Langesfeld says the bill flies in the face of what surviving family members deserve. “They're doing the exact opposite of what needs to be done,” he said.

Speaking at Wednesday’s committee meeting, he said, “instead of dropping accountability from 10 years, why don't we instead work together and raise accountability? So it doesn't occur again? The only ones benefiting from this bill are developers and insurance companies.”

Hutson’s father is a prominent Northeast Florida home builder. The Hutson Companies is currently building the massive SilverLeaf project in St. Johns County, which is ultimately expected to have more than 16,000 homes and 45 acres of retail space. (According to the business' website, Sen. Hutson’s job with the company includes leading the “companies' charitable and civic activities.")

Hudson didn’t respond to a voicemail and email, but he has disputed the Surfside connection.

“That situation is completely different than this,” he said at a November meeting of the Judiciary Committee. “In terms of that particular incident, you're talking about a building that is well beyond 10, 15, 20 years old.”

Jacksonville structural engineer Ron Woods says the condo collapse is an extreme example, but construction defects can destabilize single family homes, too. 

“We're obligated to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public,” he said. “This bill doesn't do that.”

Woods, who has 30 years of experience and has investigated hundreds of construction defect claims, says many defects are well hidden. “Water intrusion is very difficult to show up and can be insidious. It can be very slow moving, and causing damage that takes a while to show up. And many consumers don't know what to look for. Most consumers don't know what to look for.”

Complicating that, Woods said, is the fact that wood rot and structural failings can be masked by an immaculate exterior.

That was the case for Jose Gonzalez. He didn’t realize water was leaking from a poorly installed second-story window until his home was on the brink of collapse. “The window shattered,” he told First Coast News. “The roof was caving in. So that's why the window broke. The window was holding the roof up."

Gonzalez had to sue to get his builder to pay for the $60-thousand-dollar repair. But because his home was eight years old at the time, the builder would've had no obligation to pay under Hutson's proposed bill. “If that was shortened to a four-year period, that would have all been just, 'Oh, tough. Tough luck. Sorry.'”

(The bill was amended Wednesday, to change the proposed period of repose from four to five years -- half the current standard.)

For Martin Langesfeld, the peril is real, and personal. “How many lives is it going to take for legislators to do the right thing?” he asks. “I thought 98 lives was enough.”

The bill, having been approved by both the Judiciary and Community Affairs committees, has just one more stop in Rules. A date for that hearing has not been set.

RELATED: America's largest homebuilder D.R. Horton ordered to pay for pervasive condo defects  

From Florida Politics:

Senate approves construction defect law changes to combat frivolous claims

Homeowners would still have 10 years to file a claim if a builder tried to hide the defect.

The Senate has voted to consolidate the period homeowners could sue over construction defects, an effort to cut down on frivolous claims against builders.

Currently, homeowners have four years to file a claim over a clear “patent” defect and 10 years for claims involving a hidden “latent” defect. The Senate’s proposal (SB 736), passed 26-13 Thursday over the opposition of most Democrats, would give homeowners seven years to file claims over all defects, except when fraud is involved.

The seven-year period emerged last week after bill sponsor and St. Augustine Republican Sen. Travis Hutson negotiated the new limits. Before senators amended the bill on the Senate floor later that week, it offered five years to file construction defects claims over single-family residences and retained an existing 10-year repose period for defects involving all other improvements.

Under the revised Senate bill, the 10-year period is saved for cases when a homeowner alleges builders fraudulently concealed the reported defect.

“We came back and protected that homeowner by adding a fraud claim provision to this bill,” Hutson told Senators.

Senate Republicans, led by Senate President Wilton Simpson, have said construction defects can be devastating to a family’s physical safety and their financial security. Homes can be a family’s largest financial investment. Hutson has said he wants clear laws to protect people’s investments in their homes while minimizing frivolous claims.

“It is important that our laws protect people’s investments in their homes and establish a clear and fair process for addressing a construction defect,” Hutson said.

The Senate’s passage puts the ball in the House’s court.

Currently, the Florida Building Commission sets the definition for a material violation as part of the Florida Building Code. The amended Senate bill and the House bill (HB 583) from Jacksonville Republican Rep. Clay Yarborough, which awaits a hearing in its final committee, seek to define material violations in statute.

Both definitions would encompass violations within completed structures that have or may reasonably result in physical harm to a person or “significant damage” to the building’s performance. Meanwhile, the House bill still ties material violations to the Florida Building Code and considers significant damage to a building.

Cosmetic, minimal or overall inconsequential violations to the Florida Building Code wouldn’t qualify for a claim. Damage costing 25% or more of the building’s market value would qualify as significant damage.

Hutson said the bill clearly defines the Building Code and how it applies.

“If a builder is following the code, they have done nothing wrong and you can’t slap them with a claim,” Hutson said.

For every serious construction defect claim, predatory actors seeking big paydays file dozens more, the Senator noted last week.

Democrats — minus Orlando Sen. Linda Stewart, who voted with the majority — argue the decision to combat fraudulent and frivolous claims would deny many homeowners compensation for serious damage to their home.

Lighthouse Point Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer, who opposed the measure, told Senators about the latent defect he discovered in his North Carolina home. He only found out about the defect after water started leaking into his home.

“This bill tilts the balance of power with regard to a person’s most cherished, most expensive financial investment too far in favor of a builder and too much against an innocent homeowner who has no knowledge whatsoever of a defect until something starts to sag or crumble or water starts flowing into a house,” Farmer said.

The amendment also seeks to strengthen the claims-filing process by requiring the owner of an improvement to provide the builder with an inspection report from an expert who has investigated, documented and validated the owner’s concerns. Having more information about the repairs necessary could help resolve a construction defect dispute without going to court.

Speaking earlier this Session, Simpson told reporters he has heard complaints from contractors that their insurance rates have risen dramatically over recent years. Insurers won’t write policies if the system doesn’t weed out fraud.

“I do believe there’s a lot of fraud that goes on the longer you are allowed as a building owner or a homeowner to go back against the general contractor,” Simpson said.

Unlike the seven-year period established in the Senate amendment, the House bill leaves a four-year statute of limitations that begins 45 days after an improvement is completed or abandoned. Homeowners would have seven years to file for a latent, or hidden, defect from the initial 45-day period. For cases in which a homeowner has clear and convincing evidence that an engineer, architect or contractor had knowledge of a material violation, the homeowner would have 15 years after the 45-day period to sue.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

From Florida Phoenix:

Bill limiting construction-defect lawsuits grows a little friendlier to homeowners

Deadline getting shorter, but not as short as first planned

BY:  - FEBRUARY 11, 2022 9:37 AM

 Champlain Towers South, a 12-story beachfront condominium building in the Miami suburb of Surfside, partially collapsed on June 24, 2021. A controlled demolition took down the rest of the structure on July 4, 2021. Credit: Wikipedia.

The Florida Senate has advanced a watered-down version of legislation shortening the deadline for homeowners to bring lawsuits over construction defects in single-family and multi-family residences, like the ones blamed in part in the Surfside condo disaster last summer.

The bill (SB 736) addresses Florida’s “statute of repose,” similar to a statute of limitations in criminal trials, which provides a window in time in which an aggrieved homeowner can file suit. Under existing law, that adds up to 10 years. An earlier version of the bill would have cut that time in half.

But the Senate on Thursday adopted an amendment that sets the time at seven years for latent defects. The next step is a floor vote on final passage. Similar legislation (HB 586) is pending before the House Judiciary Committee.

The measure follows the June 24 collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium building in Surfside, which killed 98 people. A Miami-Dade County grand jury blamed factors including known structural damage, plus flaws in design and construction.

Family members of Surfside victims testified against the bill in committee, but no reference was made to the disaster during Thursday’s Senate floor debate.

Separated legislation (SB 1702), pending in both chambers, would require periodic “milestone” inspections of tall building in hopes of spotting and fixing problems before they result in tragedy. More than half a million multi-story buildings in Florida are between 40 and 50 years old and more than 100 are older than that.

Proponents of SB 736, including Associated General Contractors and Florida Homebuilders Association, hope the measure will restrain insurance costs for builders and subcontractors and reduce the frequency of litigation. The sponsor is Travis Hutson, a Republican developer who represents Flagler, St. Johns, and part of Volusia counties.

Other than simple construction claims, owners of single-family homes could have up to 10 years to sue if they can provide evidence anyone involved in the construction fraudulently concealed a defect. The period for fraud lawsuits involving multi-family residents is unlimited, although any lawsuit has to begin within one year after the discovery of a defect.

The amended bill defines “single-family” residence as a structure not exceeding three above-ground stories that can house as many as three families.

The bill allows builders to offer to repair or otherwise settle claims, but Hutson said plaintiffs’ attorneys are encouraging foregoing repair offers in favor of cash settlements. Insurers find it cheaper to settle.

Sen. Audrey Gibson of Duval County asked whether Hutson had data documenting that trend.

He did not, he conceded — only anecdotal evidence.

“It’s very similar to what we saw in the roofing business,” Hutson said, “where people were coming out saying, ‘We can get you a free roof if only you sign here and we’ll say there’s hail damage.’ It’s now moved into the actual building world, and it’s a problem we’re trying to get ahead of.”

Sen. Lori Berman of Palm Beach County worried that homeowners would “be stuck holding the bag” for construction defects. She cited problems with Chinese drywall, used extensively during the 2000s but later found to emit noxious gasses that damaged people’s health as well as copper piping and electric lines.

Hutson replied that they’d still have seven years to bring claim — and that, if they can demonstrate fraud, they’d have the full 10 years.

He added that Florida has rewritten its building codes, which now rank among the “strongest … in the nation.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.

From Florida State legislature's bill tracker:

CS/CS/CS/SB 736: Construction Defect and Building Code Violation Claims

GENERAL BILL by Rules ; Community Affairs ; Judiciary ; Hutson

Construction Defect and Building Code Violation Claims; Revising the limitations period for certain actions founded on the design, planning, or construction of an improvement to real property; revising the circumstances under which a person has a cause of action for a violation of the Florida Building Code; requiring a notice of claim to include an inspection report that is verified by the person conducting the inspection; requiring the court to stay an action if a claimant initiates an action without first accepting or rejecting a supplemental offer, etc.

Effective Date: 7/1/2022
Last Action: 3/14/2022 Senate - Died in returning Messages
Bill Text: Web Page | PDF 
Senate Committee References:
  1. Judiciary (JU)
  2. Community Affairs (CA)
  3. Rules (RC)

Bill History

11/2/2021Senate• Filed
11/16/2021Senate• Referred to Judiciary; Community Affairs; Rules -SJ 46 
11/22/2021Senate• On Committee agenda-- Judiciary, 11/30/21, 9:00 am, 412 Knott Building 
11/30/2021Senate• CS by Judiciary; YEAS 6 NAYS 4 -SJ 96 
12/2/2021Senate• Pending reference review under Rule 4.7(2) - (Committee Substitute)
12/6/2021Senate• Now in Community Affairs
1/7/2022Senate• On Committee agenda-- Community Affairs, 01/12/22, 9:30 am, 37 Senate Building 
1/11/2022Senate• Introduced -SJ 46 
• CS by Judiciary read 1st time -SJ 92 
1/12/2022Senate• CS/CS by Community Affairs; YEAS 6 NAYS 2 -SJ 116 
• Pending reference review under Rule 4.7(2) - (Committee Substitute)
1/13/2022Senate• Now in Rules
1/18/2022Senate• CS/CS by Community Affairs read 1st time -SJ 173 
1/31/2022Senate• On Committee agenda-- Rules, 02/03/22, 9:00 am, 412 Knott Building 
2/3/2022Senate• CS/CS/CS by- Rules; YEAS 11 NAYS 4 -SJ 344 
2/7/2022Senate• Pending reference review -under Rule 4.7(2) - (Committee Substitute)
• Placed on Calendar, on 2nd reading
• Placed on Special Order Calendar, 02/10/22 -SJ 364 
2/9/2022Senate• CS/CS/CS by Rules read 1st time -SJ 347 
2/10/2022Senate• Read 2nd time -SJ 359 
• Amendment(s) adopted (792360) -SJ 361 
• Ordered engrossed -SJ 361 
• Placed on 3rd reading
2/17/2022Senate• Read 3rd time -SJ 385 
• CS passed as amended; YEAS 26 NAYS 13 -SJ 386 
• Immediately certified -SJ 426 
2/17/2022House• In Messages
3/7/2022House• Bill referred to House Calendar
• Bill added to Special Order Calendar (3/8/2022)
• 1st Reading (Engrossed 1)
3/8/2022House• Read 2nd time
• Amendment 303549 adopted
• Placed on 3rd reading
• Added to Third Reading Calendar
3/9/2022House• Read 3rd time
• CS passed as amended; YEAS 86, NAYS 24
3/10/2022Senate• In returning messages
3/12/2022Senate• Indefinitely postponed and withdrawn from consideration
3/14/2022Senate• Died in returning Messages

CS/CS/CS/HB 583: Construction Defect Claims

GENERAL BILL by Judiciary Committee ; Regulatory Reform Subcommittee ; Civil Justice and Property Rights Subcommittee ; Yarborough ; (CO-INTRODUCERS) Mooney

Construction Defect Claims; Revises time period to bring certain actions; removes chapter 558, F.S., relating to construction defects; provides certain design professionals are not individually liable for certain damages.

Effective Date: 7/1/2022
Last Action: 3/8/2022 House - Laid on Table, refer to CS/CS/CS/SB 736 
Bill Text: PDF 

Bill History

11/15/2021House• Filed
12/6/2021House• Referred to Civil Justice & Property Rights Subcommittee
• Referred to Regulatory Reform Subcommittee
• Referred to Judiciary Committee
• Now in Civil Justice & Property Rights Subcommittee
1/11/2022House• 1st Reading (Original Filed Version)
1/14/2022House• PCS added to Civil Justice & Property Rights Subcommittee agenda
1/19/2022House• Favorable with CS by Civil Justice & Property Rights Subcommittee
1/20/2022House• Reported out of Civil Justice & Property Rights Subcommittee
• Laid on Table under Rule 7.18(a)
• CS Filed
• 1st Reading (Committee Substitute 1)
1/21/2022House• Referred to Regulatory Reform Subcommittee
• Referred to Judiciary Committee
• Now in Regulatory Reform Subcommittee
2/4/2022House• PCS added to Regulatory Reform Subcommittee agenda
2/8/2022House• Favorable with CS by Regulatory Reform Subcommittee
• Reported out of Regulatory Reform Subcommittee
• Laid on Table under Rule 7.18(a)
• CS Filed
2/9/2022House• 1st Reading (Committee Substitute 2)
2/10/2022House• Referred to Judiciary Committee
• Now in Judiciary Committee
2/21/2022House• PCS added to Judiciary Committee agenda
2/23/2022House• Favorable with CS by Judiciary Committee
2/24/2022House• Reported out of Judiciary Committee
• Laid on Table under Rule 7.18(a)
• CS Filed
• 1st Reading (Committee Substitute 3)
2/25/2022House• Bill referred to House Calendar
• Added to Second Reading Calendar
3/8/2022House• Laid on Table, refer to CS/CS/CS/SB 736 

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