Florida engineers call for mandatory building inspections 4 months after deadly Surfside condo collapse

8 On Your Side

FILE – In this July 1, 2021, file photo, Coast Guard boats patrol in front of the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, Fla. A judge pushed on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, for compromise on potential payouts between people who lost loved ones and those whose units were destroyed in the deadly collapse of a Florida beachfront condominium. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — It’s been four months since the Champlain Towers South condo building suddenly collapsed in Surfside, killing 98 men, women and children. While the exact cause of the collapse is still under investigation, Florida engineers are calling on lawmakers to take immediate action to prevent another tragedy.

Engineers tell 8 On Your Side a lot of inspections occur as a building is going up. But once the owner gets the key, no further structural inspections are required.

There are now calls for that to change. Florida’s leading engineering and architecture associations are calling for mandatory inspections of condos, offices and other buildings that are larger than 2,000 square feet with more than 10 occupants.

Engineers want most buildings to be inspected within the first 30 years and then every 10 years after that. 

But with buildings that are within three miles of salt water, engineers say the inspection needs to happen within the first 20 years followed by re-inspections occurring every seven years.

“We look at that as the bare minimum, there should be more inspections than that,” said Allen Douglas, the executive director of the Florida Engineering Society and the American Council of Engineering Companies of Florida.

Douglas is one of the authors of a nine page report outlining new safety recommendations to lawmakers. 8 On Your Side investigator Mahsa Saeidi asked him what contributed to the structural issues in Surfside.

“A lot of things point to a lack of maintenance,” Douglas said. “They couldn’t get the $9 million they needed to do the repairs of 2018.”

To spot trouble, Douglas says a licensed engineer or architect needs to do a visual inspection of common areas, garages, pool decks, balconies and more. If an issue is discovered, the interior of the building must be examined.

While the investigation into Surfside continues, Douglas highlighted the corrosive effect of saltwater on concrete and steel. 8 On Your Side asked if there are buildings in Pinellas and Sarasota counties that would have similar stressors placed on them.

“Absolutely and, as a matter of fact, this isn’t even a Florida problem. These types of problems have been identified up and down the coast,” he explained. “This is a very simple, cost effective solution. These visual inspections for a standard condominium might be 3 to 5 thousand dollars. That can be budgeted.”

Engineers want the mandatory inspections to be reported to building department officials, not just the building owners. It’s expected that lawmakers will discuss this issue at the legislative session in January.

While the vast majority of buildings are well-maintained, Douglas says if these inspections don’t happen, we could see another building collapse.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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