Peltier column: Mitigation program is likely gone

MICHAEL PELTIER

— Saying the provision reduces already depressed selling prices and lacks any uniform standards, lawmakers this week will attempt to override a veto that if left intact would require coastal property sellers to tell potential buyers what they’ve done to hurricane-proof their homes.

Passed by lawmakers during the 2010 legislative session without a single negative vote, House Bill 545 would have repealed a 2008 law put in place to require sellers and their Realtors to provide buyers with a numeric hurricane safety ranking in the state’s highest risk areas. Crist, however, vetoed the bill.

Lawmakers are scheduled to meet Tuesday to organize themselves after the Nov. 2 general election. Leaders of the Republican-led Legislature have tacked on up to nine additional items they will consider as they override a number of vetoes made by Crist during the election-year post session period.

Backers of the override effort including Florida Realtors say now is not the time to put more requirements on sellers as Florida continues to experience a glut of unsold homes and one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country. The additional expense of having an inspection comes at a time when sellers already face difficulties in unloading property, the backlog of which is hanging like a millstone around the state’s neck.

“The bottom line is Florida doesn’t have a rating system to deal with the new requirement,” said John Sebree, vice president for public policy for the statewide realty group.

If allowed to stand, the new requirements kick in Jan. 1. The repeal measure is one of nine bills lawmakers may consider next week when they return for a special session.

The Financial Services Commission in 2009 established a 1-100 scale that includes ratings on such things as roof integrity, the presence of shutters and other features that harden a home against high wind and flying debris. Once a component of the My Safe Florida Home program, the inspection and disclosure provisions went into limbo when the My Safe program shut down in June 2009. Following that, the state stopped certifying wind inspectors.

Despite a single negative vote in committee or on the floor, Crist vetoed the measure, calling the 2008 law an easily understandable means to let buyers know what they’re getting into. A Crist spokesman said Friday he could find no constituent letters calling on Crist to veto House Bill 545.

“The information can be tremendously helpful for Floridians seeking the right home for their needs,” Crist said in his veto message. “There is no compelling reason to repeal this consumer-friendly law.”

Senate sponsor Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, said the lack of certified inspectors and the nature of the inspections themselves have been long-standing concerns. Without certified civil engineers doing the inspections, Altman said it is often unclear how thorough they are.

“On the one hand, these inspections might give a buyer undue confidence in what they’re buying,” Altman said. “On the other, it could unreasonably alarm them.”

E-mail Michael Peltier at mpeltier1234@comcast.net.

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