Surfside-related building inspection measure clears first Senate hurdle

by | Jan 26, 2022

 

TALLAHASSEE — Inspections would be required for many condominium buildings and other multifamily residences statewide under “minimum” steps lawmakers are considering in response to last year’s deadly Champlain Towers South collapse in Miami-Dade County.

The Senate Community Affairs Committee on Tuesday unanimously backed a measure (SB 1702) by Chairwoman Jennifer Bradley, R-Fleming Island, that she said is designed to strengthen the long-term health of buildings after the Surfside condominium collapse in June that killed 98 people.

“There needs to be a minimum standard throughout the state so this doesn’t happen,” Bradley said. “We have half a million condo units in our state that are between 40 and 50 years old, more than (100,000) that are 50 years old or greater. And there is no requirement that they be inspected.”

Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, called the bill “much needed” to make Floridians near the coastline safer.

Among the proposed changes, multifamily residences of more than three stories located within three miles of the coast would require structural inspections after 20 years and every seven subsequent years.

Other multifamily residential buildings greater than three stories would need to have initial “milestone” inspections by the 30th year after receiving certificates of occupancy and every 10 years after that.

Also, all multifamily residential buildings opened before July 1, 1992, would need to have initial inspections performed by architects or engineers by Dec. 31, 2024.

Before the Champlain Towers collapse, building owners and property managers in Broward and Miami-Dade counties faced a recertification process when buildings approached their 40th anniversaries.

But the idea of broader recertification programs has gained traction since the summer, as the state estimates 2 million people in Florida reside in more than 912,000 condominium units that are 30 years or older. Another 141,773 condominium units — of the 1.5 million units in the state — are between 20 and 30 years old.

Boca Raton in August imposed a recertification program for 242 residential buildings over 30 years old.

The proposed changes under Bradley’s bill would increase costs that owners and associations would face for inspections and potential restoration work.

The state Department of Business and Professional Regulation said inspections in Miami-Dade and Broward counties run from $2,000 to $4,000 for small commercial buildings to $20,000 to $40,000 for 15- to 20-story structures.

Bradley’s proposal, which needs to clear two more committees before it could go to the full Senate, is one of several bills dealing with issues such as building inspections.

Included in Bradley’s bill is a proposed requirement that inspection reports be submitted to each condominium unit owner and building officials of the local governments. Also, it would require the Florida Building Commission to further develop structural and life-safety standards for all building types and structures by the end of this year.

Bradley’s measure mirrors parts of an October report by engineers and architects from seven groups that formed as the Surfside Working Group after the building collapse.

Among the working group’s recommendations were that most large buildings covered by the state’s building code and exceeding 10 occupants be inspected within 30 years of opening, with follow-up inspections every 10 years. Structures within three miles of saltwater would be inspected for structural problems at 20 years, with subsequent inspections every seven years.

Allen Douglas, executive director of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Florida and the Florida Engineering Society, said the “bare minimum” proposals are needed to ensure against future collapses.

“If there’s a building that’s been sitting there for 20 years, or 30 years, depending on where it’s at, and it hasn’t been properly maintained, we all have a vested interest in somebody that knows what they’re looking at going into that building, making sure everything’s OK,” Douglas said.

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