Because there aren’t enough inspectors or regulators, some buildings have delayed recertification for years. But things can also go wrong before recertification, and at some buildings, owners merely patch and paint and ignore long-term maintenance repairs or otherwise cut corners to avoid the conflict and chaos that large special assessments cause with their neighbors.
What should be done? Recertifications of all life-safety matters concerning structural and electrical building elements should be mandated statewide. The initial building recertification time frame should be reduced from 40 years to 10 or 20 years, and then every five years thereafter, with the inspections performed by licensed engineers or architects with a minimum of five or 10 years of experience. More governmental oversight should be required of remediation work on buildings, ensuring its timely start and completion. Steeper monetary or even criminal penalties should be imposed for noncompliance with the recertification process and required life-safety repairs.
Owners also should be required to provide adequate reserves for all life-safety repairs, and a loophole allowing owners to waive the full funding of reserves should be closed. These funds should always be segregated from other association reserve funds (such as those set aside for decorative purposes in lobbies and hallways).
And building codes, like the Florida Building Code, should require proper waterproofing by competent installers with a minimum warranty of 15 to 20 years. With sea-level rise and the corrosive salt air along the coasts, waterproofing of concrete is as important as brakes are to cars. Concrete is porous, and when water penetrates it, deterioration can occur. If not remediated in the short term, the damage becomes exponentially worse. And huge maintenance fees or special assessments anger residents and hurt market values.
The Surfside collapse was an alarm sounding. Local building officials in South Florida have stepped up emergency structural inspections. Building associations have been frantically trying to hire engineers to provide them with letters attesting to the soundness of their structures. Some older buildings have even been evacuated because of safety concerns.
A recent inspection of a condominium building in Coral Gables, for instance, found potentially serious structural problems. In a statement, the city said that the building’s condo association had “provided a report dating back four years that identified issues. Unfortunately, no action had been taken as prescribed by the report.” The statement added, “Residents of this three story structure were advised that if steps were not taken immediately, the building would need to be evacuated.”
Condominium board members merely have to certify that they have taken a brief course or that they have read the statutes and their association’s governing documents before serving. At a minimum, there should be consideration given to requiring board members to take a more detailed course, which includes the topic of preventive maintenance.