TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Documents show there were concerns about the structural integrity of the now partially-collapsed Champlain Towers South in Surfside as far back as 2018. Many people here in the Tampa Bay area live or work in multi-story buildings themselves – but how often are those buildings inspected?
8 On Your Side learned that, in our area, buildings are inspected during construction, renovation and repair. Outside of that, there’s no federal, state or local mandate to check the structure. No matter how tall, no matter how old – there is no routine inspection to test or recertify buildings.
Amanda B. Buffinton, a partner at Shutts & Bowen, has been practicing construction law in Tampa for nearly 20 years.
“Structural inspections are typically done on the front end of construction,” said Ms. Buffinton. “There’s not really any mandated quote, unquote inspection that occurs under law.”
What to watch on buildings
Ms. Buffinton says while structures are built to have long life-spans, building materials degrade over time.
This is especially true in coastal communities like Bradenton, Sarasota and St. Petersburg with the salt water, waves and wind hitting high-rises close to the shoreline.
After Surfside, some clients have expressed concern.
“As far as what unit owners I think can do, in the short term, is just understand really what goes on as far as maintenance within their own building,” said Ms. Buffinton. “Maintenance is key.”
Ms. Buffinton outlined how to spot potential structural issues. You want to look for deep cracks in the walls or ceilings, sagging roofs, uneven floors, water intrusion and crumbling concrete.
“I think when you see things like that – it’s a symptom, and it means that there’s something occurring and you want to understand what the cause of it is,” she said.
If there is an issue, Ms. Buffinton says you want to immediately report it to your association or property manager.
Depending on the response, you can also file a complaint with your city and county.
No 40-year inspections in Tampa Bay
The Surfside condo collapsed the same year it was due for its 40-year inspection.
Miami-Dade’s 40-year recertification process is not required or conducted in the Tampa Bay area. But we have plenty of high-rises on the coast, including in Pinellas County – part of State Sen. Jeff Brandes’ district.
“Unfortunately, that’s where most of our high-rise buildings are,” Sen. Brandes said. “You’re going to see a heightened scrutiny on these types of buildings going forward.”
8 On Your Side Investigator Mahsa Saeidi asked Brandes if he supports an audit of older buildings.
“We’re going to work with the engineers, we’re going to work with the architects and we’re going to work with the residents to determine what the best pathway going forward is,” he said.
There are 625 high-rise structures in Pinellas County alone. 8 On Your Side has learned building permits have been issued since the early 50s.
Sen. Brandes says change is imminent and the inspection process will be updated whether by law or the governor’s executive order.
“We’re deeply, deeply sad about what occurred,” Sen. Brandes said. “What were the actions of the condo board? What did they know and when did they know it?”
We’ve learned that State Sen. Jason Pizzo, whose district includes Surfside, is actively working on legislation.
Sen. Brandes says it just makes sense to let the lawmakers closest to this tragedy take the lead.
“I have no doubt that there will be a number of pieces of legislation filed in the coming year, if not the governor’s office by executive order, ordering different inspections to occur for older buildings,” Brandes said. “I think it’s something that’s imminent.”