Many of us live in high-rise buildings in South Florida. And even if we don’t, we have to wonder about the condition of our apartments, condos and homes after the Surfside catastrophe.
We asked construction specialists and attorneys about the questions we should all be asking about the condition of our living spaces and what kinds of updates they need as they deteriorate from heat, humidity, hurricanes and climate change.
If you have additional questions about condominium safety after Surfside, email AskLois@sunsentinel.com.
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Q. What kinds of questions should condo owners, likely with little knowledge of building construction, be asking now?
A. Ask about the age of your building, when the last inspection was and what kinds of repair work are planned in the near future, said Boca Raton attorney Peter Sachs, who is certified in condominium and planned development law. You will also want to know how much money is in the building’s reserve fund and if and when an extra financial assessment is coming, he said.
You have the right to inspect your building’s records, which would include finances and repair work. Florida law requires that condos maintain their official records for seven years.
Q. Who’s at fault when there’s a serious structural problem in a building? Is it the architects, the builders, the engineers, the inspectors or city officials? Or all of the above?
A. The architect, builder and engineer are all potentially culpable, as is the condo board if they do not act to fix the problem, Sachs said.
He said the architect would be responsible if there is a serious design flaw, and the engineer if the calculations, supervision or drawings are deficient. The builder would be to blame if corners were cut on materials or if construction failed to comply with the building code. The builder may also be liable for the failings of the architect or engineer.
The board, too, has obligations to residents, he said.
“The board has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the unit owners. If the board is negligent and fails to act, or unduly delays, it may be held liable,” Sachs said.
But city officials are off the hook, according to Sachs.
“The city officials are protected by the doctrine of sovereign immunity,” he said. “Barring criminal conduct (the building official accepted a bribe to look away from a potential problem), it is highly unlikely that a city or its employees would be held legally responsible.”
Q. How often should structural engineers inspect high-rise buildings?
A. Miami-Dade and Broward require inspections when a building turns 40, but there’s no similar mandate in the rest of the state, said Peter Sachs, a Boca Raton attorney certified in condominium and planned development law.
The boards that supervise the buildings should take the initiative and conduct a thorough inspection at least every 10 years, and more often is better, said Yaniv Levi, president of Coast to Coast General Contractors in Hollywood.
“It would behoove the association to do it yearly or bi-yearly,” he said. And he recommends the building get a new coat of paint, which also serves to weatherproof it, every seven to 10 years.