Calls for better safety measures came after the Surfside tragedy. Here are the changes so far | National

Four months after the Surfside condo building collapse, Florida is just getting started on the long path toward shoring up its building laws to ensure people stay safe.

Contractors have moved to improve old buildings across South Florida. Inspectors have evacuated residents from their deteriorating apartments for safety. New databases were created to keep the public better informed about the age of their condo buildings — and highlight the need for inspections. Some officials have called it progress, while noting that enough hasn’t been done yet.

“While the vast majority of condos probably are well-managed and well-maintained, it’s all left to chance,” said William Sklar, a West Palm Beach-based condominium lawyer. Sklar served as chairman of a Florida Bar task force that concluded the state needs to make sweeping changes to its condo laws. “There is no data saying how many have these problems, such as Champlain Towers South. And that is unacceptable.”

The beachside Champlain Towers South collapsed on June 24, killing 98 people. Here’s a look at the building-safety initiatives taken so far across South Florida and beyond, and what’s next to come.

Broward County

Broward County is currently in a wait-and-see mode as it awaits the findings of the investigation into what caused the Surfside collapse, said Dan Lavirich of Broward County Rules and Appeals, which oversees building codes in Broward.

“There’s been no information that’s come out from the investigators,” Lavrich said. “If you don’t know what the problem is, 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’ll take appropriate action. Until then, we’ll continue what we’ve done,” he said, noting the county’s building inspection program, which was created in 2006.

That program requires structural and electrical safety inspections for condo buildings every 40 years. Inspections are carried out every 10 years, and building owners must make corrections on any issues that are found.

But Sklar, the condo lawyer, says policies are way too lax for the 1.5 million condominiums in Florida — 60% of which are more than 30 years old.

To illustrate the changes that should be made, Sklar used the acronym “TRIM” — transparency, reserves, inspection, maintenance. Instead of waiting 30 years for inspections, the Florida Bar report recommends inspections every five years by structural engineers. Additionally, it’s recommended that building inspection reports be shared with all unit owners and that condominiums ensure they have proper funding for regular building maintenance.

“We’ve heard of situations where presidents of associations have taken engineering reports that said, ‘Imminent roof failure, rebar blowouts,’ and they sat on it,” Sklar said. “They wouldn’t even let the other board members know about it. Never mind the unit owners.”

“That is an abuse. That is a breach of duty.”

Palm Beach County

Palm Beach County hopes the state could take the issue out of their hands. On Tuesday, the county decided to postpone making any sweeping changes in the hopes the state will pass new building codes when the state Legislature reconvenes in January. State legislators are reviewing the Florida Bar’s report and considering which measures to put into potential bills, Sklar said.

The county has held off on sweeping changes, hoping the state “will take the lead.” Currently, Palm Beach County inspectors approve new buildings, then inspect them again if someone files a complaint or alerts them of potential unsafe buildings. Unlike other counties’ policies, Palm Beach County doesn’t require buildings to automatically undergo structural and electrical safety inspections for condo buildings that reach 40 years old.

The county still may move forward with changes: The building department has spent the past three months crafting a new policy for inspections and recertification. One proposal would require safety inspections of buildings 25 years or older and east of Interstate 95.

At the direction of the County Commission, the department began identifying all buildings that are three stories or taller. Building Department Director Doug Wise identified 1,500 buildings that fit that criteria, including nearly 900 that are 30 years or older.

Wise, however, said re-inspecting and recertifying that many buildings would a “big reach for us,” adding that the department is short-staffed and “challenged to fill vacant positions.”

Boca Raton opted not to wait for the county or the state, however. In August, the city enacted a rigorous new building inspection for the city. The ordinance requires safety and structural inspections for every building older than 30 years.

The city is in the process of hiring between three to five engineers to help beef up the department for the enhanced inspection process, City Councilman Andy Thomson said.

Boca Raton is currently prioritizing buildings by the ocean and Intracoastal Waterway, where saltwater corrosion could be an issue, Thomson said. Buildings will be required to carry out their own inspections and submit the reports to the city. The plan is for the process to begin by the beginning of next year.

Miami-Dade County

After the Surfside collapse, Miami-Dade has taken an aggressive approach in targeting unsafe buildings. The county has already evacuated a number of buildings that have been deemed unsafe due to structural issues. Among the evacuations were a 138-unit condo in Miami and two-story condo in Bay Harbour, 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 in which structural and electrical safety inspections are required every 40 years for condo buildings. Miami-Dade County Commissioner Raquel Regalado, chair of a subcommittee discussing changes to building inspection policies, said the county has already enacted a number of measures after consulting with engineers, insurance companies and attorneys.

The county is currently collecting inspection information for 40-year-old buildings and plans on posting it on the Property Appraiser’s website to increase transparency for residents.

“One of the big issues we’ve had is homeowners were calling their respective building departments and asking for these inspections and now we can tell them to go to this website [for details on inspections and violations],” Regalado said.

Miami-Dade also has approved a plan that all affordable and workforce housing projects provide a maintenance plan for financial reserves so there’s enough money “20 to 50 years from now” for buildings to perform regular and proper maintenance.


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