It took five years to accomplish, but starting tomorrow, the $243 million cap on the housing trust funds is history.

A bill passed by the 2011 Florida Legislature removes the cap enacted by the 2004 Legislature at the peak of the housing boom. Since 2007, when the $243 million limit took effect, Florida Realtors and nearly three dozen other organizations lobbied lawmakers to “scrap the cap” on the Sadowski Housing Trust Funds. The fund is sustained entirely by a portion of documentary stamp taxes paid on deeds.

“Ensuring that doc stamps will still be directed to affordable housing, their intended purpose, is a huge win for Florida families and for the Florida Realtors organization, which played a big part in the creation of the Sadowski Affordable Housing Act in 1992,” says John Sebree, Florida Realtors vice president of Public Policy. “We owe a tremendous amount of credit to Rep. Gary Aubuchon (R-Cape Coral) and to Sen. Mike Bennett (R-Bradenton) for sponsoring HB 639  and SB 912 and restoring trust in the housing trust funds.”

This year, the Florida Housing Finance Corporation has $64 million for state and local housing programs for downpayment assistance, foreclosure prevention and renovating properties for low- to moderate-income families.

HB 639/SB 912 and eight other real estate-related bills take effect tomorrow. Of particular interest to Realtors is HB 849, which changes the initial requirements for certain persons acting as home inspectors and removes language enacted last year that allowed Division 1 contractors to perform both the home inspection and make repairs.

Other laws taking effect July 1, 2011, include:

Protection for title insurance policyholders. HB 1007  was introduced on behalf of the Department of Financial Services (DFS) to ensure that property owners continue to have title insurance coverage even if their underwriter is liquidated. When an underwriter is liquidated, as is currently the case, all other underwriters in the state will pay an assessment to DFS. This assessment will be passed on — over a period not to exceed seven years — to new policyholders in the form of a surcharge of up to $25. DFS indicates that the surcharge resulting from the underwriter currently being liquidated would be significantly less than $25.

You’re S.A.F.E. to move about the transaction. SB 1316  codifies into the Florida S.A.F.E. Mortgage Licensing Act the same language contained in a federal act that allows Florida real estate licensees to list and sell short sales without having to first obtain additional licensure under Chapter 494.

More changes to condo and homeowners’ association laws. HB 1195 seeks to fix aspects of last year’s big condo legislation. Among the highlights:
•    Allows condo, homeowners and cooperative associations to demand full monthly rent from tenants in properties of owners who are behind in maintenance payments. Landlords are banned from punishing tenants who comply with the law.
•    Exempts condos less than four stories high with exterior corridors from installing manual fire alarm systems.
•    Permits associations to install impact glass and other code-compliant windows for hurricane protection.
•    Prevents unit owners who are delinquent in their association fees to access common areas and other community assets.

Economic development — possibly to benefit affordable housing. HB 7205 creates a new trust fund to be used for economic development efforts. The State Economic Enhancement and Development Trust Fund will be established in July 2012 and will initially include $125 million drawn from money that now flows to the state’s affordable housing trust fund and the state’s road-building trust fund.

Challenging property tax assessments. So many property owners are challenging their assessments that it has resulted in a number of school boards being unable to forecast their budgets. As a result, Rep. Ana Rivas Logan (R-Miami) filed HB 281 on behalf of the Miami-Dade School Board. As originally filed, this bill required property owners who appealed their assessment to pay 75 percent of the appraised value. Florida Realtors helped to amend the bill to allow owners to make a good faith payment during the appeal process if it extends beyond April 1 of the next year. The new law will apply to petitions filed with value adjustments boards on or after July 1, 2011.

Curbing adverse possession scams. SB 1142 seeks to make it more difficult for people to take possession of homes vacated, often due to foreclosure or other financial hardships, and claim ownership under adverse possession. Among other things, the new law requires county property appraisers to notify the owner of record when an adverse possession claim is made on their property, and giving this individual priority on paying back taxes.