Calls for better safety measures came after the Surfside tragedy. Here are the changes so far | National News
Four months after the Surfside condo building collapsed, Florida has only just begun strengthening its building laws to keep people safe.
Contractors have moved to upgrade old buildings across South Florida. Inspectors have evacuated residents from their dilapidated apartments for security reasons. New databases have been created to better educate the public about the age of their condos – and highlight the need for inspections. Some officials called it progress but noted that not enough had been done.
“While the vast majority of condos are likely to be well managed and maintained, everything is left to chance,” said William Sklar, a West Palm Beach condo attorney. Sklar chaired a task force for Florida Bar that concluded the state must make major changes to its condominium laws. “There is no data on how many have these problems, such as Champlain Towers South. And that is unacceptable. “
The Champlain Towers South on the beach collapsed on June 24, killing 98 people. Here’s a look at the building security initiatives we’ve taken to date in South Florida and beyond, and what’s next.
Broward County is currently in a wait and see mode as it awaits the results of the investigation into the cause of the Surfside collapse, said Dan Lavirich of Broward County Rules and Appeals, which oversees building codes in Broward.
“There is no information from the investigators,” said Lavrich. “If you don’t know the problem, how do you solve the problem?
“Everyone says, ‘What are you going to do?’ When we find out what happened and why it happened, we will take appropriate action. Until then, we will continue to do what we did, ”he said, referring to the district’s 2006 building inspection program.
This program requires condominium structural and electrical safety inspections every 40 years. Inspections are carried out every 10 years and building owners need to make corrections if problems are identified.
But Sklar, the condo attorney, says the guidelines for Florida’s 1.5 million condos – 60% of which are over 30 years old – are way too loose.
To illustrate the changes that should be made, Sklar uses the acronym “TRIM” – transparency, reserves, inspection, maintenance. Rather than waiting 30 years for inspections, the Florida Bar Report recommends civil engineer inspections every five years. It is also recommended that building inspection reports be circulated to all homeowners and that condominiums ensure that they have adequate funding for regular building maintenance.
“We have heard of situations in which association presidents have recorded technical reports that read ‘roof failure, reinforcement breaks’ and they have sat down on them,” said Sklar. “They didn’t even want to tell the other board members about it. Don’t worry about the owners of the units. “
“This is an abuse. That is a breach of duty. “
Palm Beach County
Palm Beach County hopes the state can take the problem out of their hands. On Tuesday, the county decided to postpone fundamental changes in the hopes that the state would pass new building codes when lawmakers reassembled in January. State lawmakers are reviewing Florida Bar’s report and considering what measures to include in potential bills, Sklar said.
The district has held back with far-reaching changes in the hope that the state will “take the lead”. Palm Beach County inspectors are currently approving new buildings and then re-inspecting them whenever someone files a complaint or alerts them of potentially unsafe buildings. Contrary to other counties’ guidelines, Palm Beach County does not require condominium buildings that turn 40 to automatically undergo structural and electrical safety inspections.
The district can still make progress with changes: In the last three months the building authority has drawn up a new guideline for inspections and recertification. One proposal would require safety inspections of buildings 25 years or older that are east of Interstate 95.
Under the direction of the County Commission, the department began identifying all buildings three stories or higher. Construction director Doug Wise identified 1,500 buildings that matched these criteria, including nearly 900 that are 30 years or older.
However, Wise said the re-inspection and re-certification that many buildings would be “a great reach for us”, adding that the department is scarce and “challenged to fill vacancies.”
However, Boca Raton chose not to wait for the county or the state. In August, the city issued a strict new building inspection for the city. The ordinance prescribes safety and structural tests for every building that is more than 30 years old.
The city is in the process of hiring three to five engineers to strengthen the department for the improved inspection process, Councilor Andy Thomson said.
Boca Raton is currently prioritizing oceanfront and Intracoastal Waterway buildings where saltwater corrosion could be an issue, Thomson said. The buildings must conduct their own inspections and submit the reports to the city. The process is slated to begin early next year.
After the Surfside collapse, Miami-Dade took an aggressive approach to targeting unsafe buildings. The county has already evacuated a number of buildings that have been classified as unsafe due to structural issues. Evacuations included a 138-unit condo in Miami and a two-story apartment in Bay Harbor, and the county also closed the top floors of the 28-story Miami-Dade County Courthouse for repairs in July.
Miami-Dade also has a policy that requires condominium structural and electrical safety inspections every 40 years. Raquel Regalado, Miami-Dade district commissioner, chair of a subcommittee that discusses building control policy changes, said the district has already enacted a number of measures after consulting with engineers, insurance companies and lawyers.
The county is currently collecting inspection information for 40-year-old buildings and plans to post it on the property appraiser’s website to increase transparency for residents.
“One of the big problems we had was homeowners calling their respective construction departments asking for these inspections and now we can tell them to go to this website [for details on inspections and violations]“Said Regalado.
Miami-Dade has also approved a plan that requires all affordable and worker housing projects to have a financial reserve maintenance plan so that there will be enough money on buildings “in 20 to 50 years” to carry out regular and proper maintenance.
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