Building safety is at the top of mind for local leaders and condo residents following the Champlain Towers South Building collapse.
Recent audits conducted by local municipalities have uncovered unsafe conditions, violations and a lack of enforcement.
Local municipalities launched audits following what took place in surfside. As a result of local audits, buildings across South Florida have been flagged as being unsafe and in some cases buildings have been evacuated.
Broward County’s Board of Rules and Appeals did its own preliminary audits into the county’s 40-year inspection program. In 2020, the audit found of the 14 cities with buildings six stories or higher, only three cities had completed the 40-year inspection process and certified the necessary buildings safe.
The three cities included Dania Beach, Hillsboro Beach, and Plantation. Nine other cities reported still being in the process of completing the certification process and two did not respond.
A spokesperson from Miami-Dade County told NBC 6 News they did not conduct an audit of the municipalities, but did encourage local building departments to conduct their own audits of older buildings.
“As long as they show the building official they started the process but need more time then most likely they are going to get the extension,” attorney Peter Sachs said.
Sachs is the founding partner with Sachs Sax Caplan Law Firm. He specializes in condominium and planned development law.
Buildings in Miami-Dade County and Broward have 60 days to make needed repairs noted by an engineer during the 40-year inspection, but Sachs says building officials often allow that work to go on longer if they believe the building’s condo association is working to make the repairs and there is no evidence of a life-threatening issue.
It’s a process that has allowed some buildings to remain in violation for years.
“Lack of funding, the building departments in Dade and Broward County don’t necessarily have the personnel in numbers or in expertise to get the job done,” Sachs said.
The Crestview Towers in North Miami Beach was nine years late submitting its 40-year recertification. City records show the building racked up nearly $600,000 in fines for violations over the years.
“We are not in the business of putting people out of their homes or trying to assess people, at some point they try to mitigate those fines and the city works with them to mitigate those fines. But the fines are there to make them hold their feet to the fire,” City Manager Arthur Sorey said in July.
In Miami, a building at 5050 NW 7th Street is more than eight years late completing its recertification.
“That was very alarming, it was a very chaotic moment, everyone was shocked, there were a lot of things happening at the same time, nobody knew what was going on or why we were being evacuated,” resident Maria Alejandra Perez said.
She is one of the many residents waiting to return to her home after the building was evacuated.
“City building officials are meeting with building representatives on a bi-weekly basis to help move the repair process forward," a representative with the city of Miami told NBC 6 News. "Currently, the building remains closed to occupants due to life safety issues and may not be reoccupied until the necessary repairs are made to the building.”
Sachs said, as leaders consider better ways to assess the safety of older buildings, he suggests expanded safety guidelines and more manpower.
“We don’t have adequate reserves in most of the condominiums, we don’t have adequate professional help on staff with government,” Sachs said.
Broward County said they plan on making an audit of the BORA program a permanent annual feature on the 40-year and older buildings safety inspection program.
They also plan on asking the building departments to create a follow-up program reminder to property owners 60 days following the day they mail their notices out to anyone who has not yet responded – starting with the current 2021 program.
They also plan on making sure that the 2019 list of buildings and 2020 list of buildings are completed by each jurisdiction. Specifically, to include that all reports have been received or to state the status of any code enforcement action for any reports not yet received by the building department.