By Christopher J. Russo, Former City Manager
(Friday, August 6, 2021) – By now, most of our residents know that the Building Department initiated a Special Inspection Program at the end of June in response to the Surfside building collapse. This program allows our Building Department to assess each property built before 1982 and uncover any unexpected issues. Just as important, it gives residents peace of mind that they are safe in their home.
Some of you have questioned where the year 1982 came from. Miami-Dade County has a 40-year recertification process in place that requires buildings to undergo an inspection when they become 40 years old, and subsequently every 10 years after. This process involves buildings hiring an architect or engineer to perform structural and electrical inspections, and then submitting a report to our Building Department. If repairs are required, the building must hire a Florida licensed general contractor, obtain the necessary permits, receive final approval from our inspectors, and submit a final certification letter from their architect or engineer of record in order to receive certification. In the rare case that a building is deemed non-compliant with the 40-year recertification process, our Building Official may be required to refer them to the Miami-Dade County Unsafe Structures Board, a quasi-judicial advisory committee that reviews the decision of Building Officials regarding buildings considered unsafe.
Our goal in initiating the Special Inspection Program was to take a proactive approach to inspecting all buildings nearing their 40+ year recertifications and those that already had theirs. There are 59 buildings that meet the criteria of this program and thus far, the Building Department has completed the assessment of 19 buildings. But just because a building’s special inspection is complete does not mean the building is automatically in the all-clear. If our inspectors find a concern or something unexpected, they will require the building to contract a Florida licensed professional engineer for further evaluation. Buildings will have 30 days from the date of notice to submit the engineer’s report to our Building Department.
As a result of these inspections, the parking garage of one building was partially declared unsafe by the engineer doing the garage repair design, due to deterioration that required immediate attention. The condominium’s pool, located on the second floor of the parking garage, was drained and 150 cars were required to relocate. The City is assisting with providing alternate parking for those residents. To reassure residents, now that the garage is partially empty and installation of additional shoring has taken place, the engineer has declared the building safe for continued occupancy while the repair work is ongoing. But this is a good example of how our inspections are proactively helping mitigate risk.
At the July Commission Meeting, John Pistorino, a professional engineer, spoke about the methodology of high-rise construction and explained how he wrote the requirements to create the 40-year recertification back in the 1970s. He explained that for the buildings built recently, the strength of the concrete and construction is greater than it was 40 years ago and that these buildings also have multiple safeguards in place to make sure they are safe to live in. There is also the State of Florida Threshold Building Law, which requires any building with more than three stories to have an independent engineer inspect and certify that every constructional component is in accordance with the building’s plans. John also pointed out that the intention of the recertification process isn’t that condos should wait until the building is 40 years old to look at it. They need to take a proactive approach rather than waiting for issues to arise. We live in a hostile environmental zone due to the high concentration of salt in the air, but if you catch an issue early enough, it can be handled in a reasonable and inexpensive fashion. To put it plainly, as long as the building is being looked after, it will be safe for residents.
We post the status of the Special Inspection Program regularly on our website at sibfl.net/specialinspections. You can see which buildings are undergoing inspections and whether the inspection is pending or completed. Residents should inquire with their condominium or building management office to find out if a notice was issued and to obtain a copy if that is the case.
We understand and are doing everything in our power to ensure that your condominiums and buildings are all safe. This process takes time and we appreciate your patience as our Building Department works tirelessly to complete these inspections in addition to their regular day-to-day tasks.