By now, you’ve probably heard of the Surfside Condominium Collapse, but if not, here’s a brief overview.

On the morning of June 24th, 2021, while most of the inhabitants slept, half of the building came crashing to the ground. Ninety-eight people lost their lives that morning.

Why did this happen? Was it some natural disaster that comes once in a blue moon? Sadly, the answer is much more neglectful.

 

First, Let’s Get Some History

Commercial buildings and condominium building inspections in Florida vary greatly in terms of both consistency and attentiveness.

In fact, in Miami-Dade county (where the collapse happened), all buildings except for single-family residences, duplexes, and minor structures with an occupancy of 10 or less, are required to be inspected at the time they’re built, and not again until 40 years later with an additional inspection every ten years thereafter. That’s quite a gap.

View of Miami beach from condo balcony

Beachfront property, for example, has seen a great many hurricanes and other harsh Florida weather over the past 40 years. The structures themselves are built deeply into the ground to withstand wind damage, but what about the other parts of the building?

  • Concrete: Settlement and spalling (when concrete breaks off into smaller pieces) can allow water to seep in through cracks, corroding steel rebar inside and causing the beams and the outer surface to swell, which in turn causes more cracking and damage to the structure.
  • Wood structures: Wood is easily devastated by water, termites, or other wood destroying organisms, making these structures weaken or become unsafe.
  • Steel frame construction: Out of control corrosion can also weaken the structure.

As we’ve seen, this slippery slope of issues can lead to destabilizing a structure and lead to a catastrophic result.

 

Why Are The Laws Relaxed?

Experts say that the reason that laws are so relaxed is because Florida legislators are hesitant to do anything that slows down condominium building processes.

Condos (especially in Miami and other beachfront counties) are money makers. They want high rises, they want lots of people, and they want it fast. Tourists, snow birds, and other condo dwellers bring revenue to Florida, so lax inspection laws help construction move a lot faster.

Not only are the laws not up to par, but some condo associations are essentially a fractured group of owners, rather than one central entity. So, in order to get repairs executed, all of the owners need to vote accordingly, and these repairs can be very expensive.

Surfside Condo building collapse with emergency crew trucks

What Made the Surfside Condominium Unique?

According to their 40 year inspection, Surfside had major structural damage, the worst being that the waterproofing below the pool deck and entrance needed to be completely replaced.

A previous inspector noted that the pool/entrance area was built on a flat surface rather than being sloped to drain. This meant that any water from the pool or even rain would simply puddle until it evaporated. This was cited as a building error on the part of the original construction. The total repairs amassed to over $9,000,000 to make this building safe.

This video paints a horrifying picture of what can happen when you have a combination of lax laws, ignore extensive repairs, and lack of maintenance.

 

Ripple Effect

Since that horrific tragedy, building owners have been scrambling to get inspections.

And fortunately, many aren’t waiting until their buildings hit the 40-year mark. This means that inspection companies are completely swamped. Companies are being contacted by up to 50 owners a week trying to make sure their structure is safe for living.

Experts are saying that the collapse will have a major effect on the laws—and possibly the skyline—of Miami.

People are worried that high-rise buildings may not be safe in the long run since the sea air, hurricanes, and sun are harsh on buildings. Investors are scared that their properties will be deemed unsafe, and that prospective buyers/investors will be hesitant to even entertain buying older properties.

The value of these properties has tanked. Prior to the collapse, the market for all condos was on an upswing. The older ones were more appealing because they were cheaper with the newer ones being sold less.

Now? It’s the opposite. People are investing in newer properties. There’s the occasional investor looking to make a quick buck by buying older properties as the price tanks and selling them when it improves, but no one knows when that might be.

It’s risky in many ways. Are they buying property that will eventually be demolished or was Surfside a fluke?

Insurance company premiums are predicted to skyrocket, too. After hurricane Andrew, prices went up 400-500%. People are fearful that this will happen again to the inhabitants/investors of these older buildings.

Construction worker holding a roll of draft paper

What Goes Into A Commercial Inspection?

A good building inspector looks at everything, top to bottom.

They will look at structures, fire issues, safety issues, things that are damaged but easy to repair, and yes, the things they gather from evidence that need repairing. A lot of businesses are sticker-shocked when they see the price that proper repairs will cost.

Current laws require that condominium associations have a fully funded reserve fund to cover necessary repairs, but there aren’t any laws that require building owners to have inspections performed to determine what “fully funded” means for them.

Proposed laws include 5-year inspections and making sure buildings are inspected after being constructed.

 

What Should Current Building Owners Do?

First of all, even if the tide is turning, the laws won’t change overnight, which means you have to be proactive.

However, don’t call inspection companies directly if you notice cracking, pooling water, or other things that concern you.

Yes, an inspector can do a thorough examination of your apartment or condo unit, but it won’t do you any good unless they inspect the entire building. Instead, speak to the Board of Directors for your community association.

If you’re on the Board, know that inspection companies are bogged down, so you won’t be able to get an inspection immediately. If your building is older, start setting the money aside for things that will need to be repaired, so that when your inspection is finished, you can begin those much-needed repairs and continue saving for the cosmetic issues.

Unfortunately, people want the common areas to look more attractive, but we see where that can lead.

The Surfside Condominium collapse was a tragedy, but one that may have been avoided. It’s possible that a failure to repair may have contributed to the demise of this building. Nobody knows if the repairs would have made a difference, but it just goes to show that inspection reports are not to be taken lightly.

If you’re in need of an inspection, Building Inspection Services is the company you need. We will inspect all the common areas for your reassurance.

Reach out today to request an inspection.