Champlain Towers Panel Urges Building Safety Reforms

2 min read

In the wake of the collapse in Surfside, Fla., a grand jury proposes steps to prevent future disasters.

Image via Unsplash by Bernd Klutsch

Miami-Dade County should recertify buildings every 10 to 15, rather than 40, years. The county should not allow condominium boards to waive an obligation to fund reserves for building repairs. And periodic inspections should take place before acceptance of recertification inspections. These are among recommendations of a Miami-Dade County grand jury probing June’s collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Fla.

The grand jury’s 43-page report stated without implementation of recommended improvements to policies and procedures, another tragedy similar to the June 24 partial collapse of the 12-story, 136-unit tower, which killed 98 people, is certain to take place.

The report also criticized the Champlain Towers South condo board for failing to launch repairs due to a dearth of financial reserves. And it took the Florida Condominium Act to task for permitting condo boards to waive their obligations to fund reserves for repairs. The report said failings at Champlain Towers South came at every level of oversight.

The final determination of the cause of the collapse awaits the findings of The National Institute of Standards and Technology, whose investigation is ongoing.

Safe, habitable

Among its findings, the grand jury took note of the understaffing of the City of Miami Building Department’s Unsafe Structures Division. Buildings that fail reinspection or are deemed unsafe are referred to the division. The report called “woefully insufficient” the division’s single inspector, lone chief and four administrative personnel on staff in 2020.

It urged greater staff, inspectors and budgets to pinpoint dangerous structures, suggested hiking qualification standards for inspectors and recommended engineers conducting building inspections be bound by a “duty to report.” That mandate would compel an engineer or architect who finds a building or structure unsafe for continued occupancy to notify the local building official within 24 hours of that discovery.

The grand jury’s task was to zero in on the policies, procedures, protocols, systems and practices of participants charged with ensuring buildings in Miami-Dade are designed and built for safety. It probed whether “residents of those buildings effectuate timely and appropriate maintenance of their buildings so they remain safe and habitable, and officers and officials exercise appropriate oversight,” to ensure each of the above.

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