TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — On June 24, 2021, the state of Florida experienced a catastrophic loss. In Surfside, Champlain Towers South collapsed, leading to the deaths of 98 residents. The final victim was found on July 26, ending the recovery efforts.
Now, the Florida legislature is attempting to correct the systemic issues that contributed to the collapse with a bill that would increase inspection requirements, frequency, and reporting of multi-unit residences.
Champlain Towers was an older condominium, emblematic of high-rises in Florida built during the early 1980s. Inside, condos that were still available for sale priced out between $600,000 to $700,000. Despite recent maintenance reviews and some roof repairs, engineers examining the wreckage found the building had “major structural damage” discovered as early as 2018.
According to city records, three years and $9 million in incomplete repairs later, a concrete slab below the building’s pool deck broke, leading to the building collapse.
After months of sifting through the rubble, lawmakers and engineers alike called for statewide reforms on building inspections, with the hope that the extra effort to check for problems could save lives.
In the 2022 legislative session, the first on-paper proposal to address factors which led to the Surfside Collapse has been drafted. A bill written by state senator Jennifer Bradley (R-Fleming Island), Senate Bill 1702 – Mandatory Building Inspections, faced its first hurdle in the Florida Senate’s Community Affairs Committee Hearing, but passed the committee unanimously.
As proposed, SB 1702 would require the owners of multifamily residential buildings, such as condos, apartment complexes, and other similar structures, to have “milestone inspections” on specific schedules, based upon factors like height, age, and occupancy.
Those inspections must be “a structural inspection of a building by a licensed architect or engineer authorized to practice in” Florida. The inspector must attest to the “life safety and adequacy of the structural components of the building and, to the extent reasonably possible, determining the general structural condition of the building as it affects” the building’s safety.
However, there are some rules about how often the required inspections happen, and the proposed bill states the inspections are not to check if an existing building complies with the Florida Building Code.
For multifamily residences more than three stories, a milestone inspection must be completed by the end of the year when a building turns 30-years-old. After that, the building would have to be inspected again every 10 years.
For buildings that are higher than three stories and built within three miles of a coastline, a milestone inspection must be complete by the end of the year a building turns 20-years-old, and then every seven years afterward. Buildings that are less than 3,500 square feet or two-family dwellings are not required to have milestone inspections, according to SB 1702.
If a building is subject to milestone inspections, the board of administration of the condo or cooperative association must have the inspection completed, and ensure compliance. The associations would also be responsible for the costs of the inspection.
The bill also sets a deadline for inspections to start, based on the age of the building. For buildings built on or before July 1, 1992, inspections for the initial milestone check have to be done by December 31, 2024.
Inspections will also have to be done in two parts.
Phase I inspections will have to have a licensed architect or engineer visually examine all of the areas of the building that are habitable and nonhabitable, to give a quality assessment of how the structure looks. This could be anything from surface imperfections like cracks or sagging to bigger issues like “significant misalignment, signs of leakage, or peeling of finishes” which are signs of “structural distress.”
The inspection report must be submitted to the building owner, the board of administration for the condo or co-op, and a local government building official.
When a building’s Phase I inspection flags serious problems, Phase II inspections must be performed.
Special inspectors are required to do a Phase II inspection, which could involve “destructive or nondestructive testing at the special inspector’s direction” according to the bill. The inspection by the special inspector “may be as extensive or as limited” as needed to fully check the building, and confirm it is safe for those who live there.
If the building is found to be unsafe, inspectors would have to create or recommend a plan for assessing and repairing the damaged parts of the building. The inspectors would also have to submit a report to local officials, the building owner and the building’s board of administration.
After inspection, each condo unit owner must get a copy of the reports, whether or not there are deficiencies. By law, a public copy must also be placed online at the condo or cooperative association’s website.
Local enforcement agencies would set timelines and potential penalties for failing to follow guidelines. Commissions would have to develop “comprehensive structural and life safety standards” for inspections and maintenance of all building types and structures in Florida by the end of 2022.
Those standards would have to be made available to local governments for adoption at their discretion after they are published.
The bill requires that all copies of the milestone inspection reports be kept as official records, including copies of both phase inspections and repair plans if needed.