Florida: Building for Tomorrow, Today Despite challenges posed by COVID-19, Florida’s home building boom continues

Florida’s construction industry is weathering the COVID-19 pandemic with surprising strength. While Florida’s tourism and hospitality industries have been hard hit, with many projects delayed or canceled, the residential construction industry is showing strength as people continue to flock to Florida. Factors such as the ease of remote working, a good climate for outdoor activities, low mortgage rates, and a favorable cost of living have combined to maintain the demand for new housing in a state that was already experiencing steady population growth.

Before the pandemic, residential construction accounted for more than half of all private construction spending in the United States. Single-family residences, condominium developments, apartment communities, senior living and student housing are all part of what was a $500 billion residential construction market. Home renovation and specialty trade contractors also make up a considerable portion of the residential construction market. While the construction industry has experienced a decline in volume as a result of the pandemic, residential construction is projected to recover faster than other parts of the construction industry in many states, including Florida.

Why Florida is Different

Construction in Florida, and particularly residential construction, is different from construction elsewhere in the country. Florida’s building codes already include special requirements intended to reduce damage and loss of life caused by hurricanes and other extreme wind and flood events. For residents of South Florida, local construction code extensions enhance the statewide building code with special requirements to reduce the threat of wind-borne debris in large storms. In light of rising sea levels and higher tides, Florida is also beginning to address the effects of these changes on homes and other buildings. With a mean elevation of approximately 100 feet above sea level, Florida has the third-lowest average elevation of any state, making the state particularly susceptible to rising sea levels.

Florida’s construction requirements also reflect the state’s demographic and residential idiosyncrasies. Because Florida is home to scores of senior citizens and retirees, Florida’s laws, regulations and enforcement actions are aimed at protecting seniors from unscrupulous contractors and ensuring that nursing homes and assisted living facilities can safely function after major weather events. For the many residents and tourists who enjoy water sports, fishing and wildlife, Florida has strict requirements relating to site development and stormwater runoff to reduce the impact on water quality. And Florida law is especially well developed on addressing construction defect claims in the context of residential condominiums and common-interest properties.

Compliance is the Name of the Game

Florida’s construction environment requires a focus on compliance with applicable laws and regulations. Regardless of whether the project is residential, industrial or commercial, Florida’s contractor licensure and building code requirements are interlaced to maximize their effectiveness. For example, a contractor must prove its licensure to obtain a building permit, and building officials can report contractors who fail to comply with the building code to the state licensing authority. Often, failing to maintain legal compliance during construction is more than just a legal problem – it may be an event of default under a project’s financing package that threatens the entire development.

Having withstood the COVID-19 pandemic with uncommon verve, Florida’s residential building boom is unlike any other. With an eye toward compliance and an understanding of local custom, general contractors and subcontractors can position themselves to take full advantage of this once-in-a-decade industry-wide opportunity.

The attorneys in SGR’s Construction Law group work with some of the country’s largest contractors and developers, on projects ranging from luxury condominiums to university dormitories, and have assisted nationwide remodelers and home improvement contractors. SGR’s experience in residential construction, as well as commercial and industrial construction, sets it apart from other construction law firms that focus solely on commercial construction. With offices in Jacksonville and Miami, SGR covers the state from north to south and everywhere in between.

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