State commission wants to roll back a key part of post-Surfside condo safety law. Lawmakers are not so sure

A new Florida Building Commission report challenges a key part of a key law passed last year in response to the collapse of Surfside’s Champlain Towers South building that killed 98 people.

At the heart of the new bill was the creation of a two-phase schedule for building inspections for buildings across the state – with a more rigorous cadence for buildings near the coast.

But the commission, which includes developers and contractors, claims the distinction between how often coastal properties and inland properties need to be inspected for structural integrity has little basis in the real world. It’s a statement that some architects and lawmakers flatly refute.

Instead, the commission recommends removing the distinction between coastal and inland properties in the law and is asking lawmakers to bring all buildings under the less timely schedule requirements created for those located away from the coast.

The Florida Building Commission also recommended in the report that it be given the power to fine-tune the standards for inspections itself without having to resort to Florida state and state legislatures.

Preliminary research from the University of Florida, funded by the commission, “suggests that there may not be an appreciable difference in the degree of deterioration between coastal and inland structures and that this may not justify the additional administrative and economic burdens of differential treatment.” “, says the report.

The idea of ​​treating coastal and inland buildings differently has been at the forefront of talks since the beachfront property collapsed in 2021.

the law that happened Required all Florida condominiums three stories or higher and located within three miles of the shoreline to complete a “milestone inspection” in the 25th year of construction and every 10 years thereafter. Similar condos further from the coast would need to conduct the inspections in the 30th year after construction and every 10 years thereafter.

The idea was based on the assumption that coastal buildings are exposed to conditions that make rapid deterioration more likely.

However, the report came to a different conclusion, even if some of its findings appear contradictory – while questioning a key aspect of the data used.

For its research, the commission analyzed more than 300 inspection records for 267 buildings in Miami-Dade and Broward counties that already require 40-year inspections. Buildings in coastal cities like Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach and Miami Beach were inspected along with inland cities like Hialeah.

    The report found that the closer they are to shore, the need for repairs increases slightly after a 40-year inspection.

Florida Building Commission


Florida Building Commission

The report found that the closer they are to shore, the need for repairs increases slightly after a 40-year inspection.

On the one hand, the report found that “there is a slight trend towards a higher percentage of buildings in need of repair the closer they are to the coast”.

On the other hand, the Commission found that buildings further inland actually had more problems with concrete reinforcement corrosion.

“This finding is a result of the difficulty in detecting corrosion in embedded rebar using visual inspection techniques, rather than a true measure of the presence of corrosion,” the report clarified.

    At the same time, the report found slightly more concrete rebar corrosion on properties classified as further from shore.

Florida Building Commission


Florida Building Commission

At the same time, the report found slightly more concrete rebar corrosion on properties classified as further from shore.

In summary, the report concludes that “there is no observable trend in the reported general concrete condition near shore”. Instead, the commission recommends that all condos be of the same standard: the first “milestone inspection” 30 years after construction, regardless of where they are located.

If the state doesn’t change the law and insists on distinguishing between coastal and inland properties, the commission is asking lawmakers to clarify what it considers “shoreline” — that is, at what point the three-mile distance begins the coast outlines zone being measured.

For their analysis, the commission used something called Florida Coastal Construction Control Line, a standard set by the Ministry of the Environment. She recommends that if the state wants to differentiate further, perhaps simply use this line.

“Statistics can lie”

But using this line for analysis or for defining a shoreline poses its own problems.

For example, in South Florida, this line runs along barrier island cities like Miami Beach and Palm Beach. That means the city of Miami, for example, might not be considered a coastal city because it’s several miles west of the shoreline.

The Florida Coastal Construction Line as defined by the state.  Using this classification would mean that a coastal city like Miami is not actually on the coast, being several miles west of the line that bisects the offshore island of Miami Beach.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection


Florida Department of Environmental Protection

The Florida Coastal Construction Line as defined by the state. Using this classification would mean that a coastal city like Miami is not actually on the coast, being several miles west of the line that bisects the offshore island of Miami Beach.

That may have skewed the data and statistics the commission gleaned from the investigation, said Thorn Grafton, a Miami-based architect who has worked on coastal engineering projects. “Stats can lie,” Grafton said.

Grafton questioned the recommendation to no longer distinguish between coastal and inland areas, saying they defied “common sense”.

“Anyone who has repaired older buildings in South Florida knows that salty air affects older buildings near the coast,” Grafton said. “Usually we see the south and east sides of buildings have a little more spalling – concrete cracking – than other sides just because of the wind and the salt they get.”

Areas along the coastal construction line are already affected other, higher standards in building codes partly for this reason. Members of the Florida Building Commission, who are appointed by the governor, might not want other standards to creep in further inland, Grafton suggested. “I feel a reluctance to treat buildings differently, just based on a line, one way or another,” he said.

CONTINUE READING: State Senator Pizzo on the Surfside Tragedy, Rabbi Lipskar on Finding Hope, and a Key West Cruise Update

Commissioners told WLRN they were directed by the DeSantis administration not to speak to reporters. “You know how things are in this state right now,” one member quipped.

Nonetheless, some members told WLRN that they felt it was better to await the final results of a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) federal investigation into the Surfside condo collapse before feeling comfortable treating shoreline properties differently Land inland.

The final results of the investigation could take several years to be completed and published, NIST previously said told WLRN. A full report that NIST issued on the September 11 attacks took six years; a report on the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2017 is pending.

At a Florida Senate committee meeting last week, Jeff Kelly, director of professions in the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, presented some of the report’s overall findings to lawmakers. The department oversees the Florida Building Commission and speaks on its behalf for the DeSantis administration.

“What they’re saying is they’re not seeing the data yet to justify this,” Kelly said, referring to the different treatment of coastal and inland areas.

Bipartisan response to recommendations

Democratic State Senator Jason Pizzo was outraged by the recommendation.

“They stabbed to see what NIST brings back,” Pizzo said. “You’re not drawing any conclusions. A five year old could tell you that the corrosive elements of salt water and flood water levels are far more aggressive on rebar concrete he should have aged in dog years. You stung.”

Republican state senators Jason Brodeur and Jennifer Bradley seemed to agree with Pizzo.

“I don’t think I need a record to know that salt corrodes metal unless the laws of physics are different in different parts of the state.” And as long as it’s not reasonable, I’ll probably look into some of those things,” Brodeur said.

Senator Bradley added that experts consulted by Florida lawmakers were “pretty clear” that coastal conditions “suggested that these buildings and their structural integrity would deteriorate more rapidly and would be of more concern when it came to the.” security of people”.

Lawmakers have also been vocal in questioning whether there are enough inspectors in the state needed to conduct all of the inspections the new law mandates and whether they may need to shift roadmaps in the future. The DBPR told lawmakers that there are only 600 qualified building inspectors in the state while there are over a million condos statewide, but it cannot say with certainty whether the limited number of inspectors could result in a backlog.

The first inspections under the new law are required by December 31, 2024.

In the report, the commission found that there are already systemic delays in completing the 40-year inspections already required at Miami-Dade and Broward. About 13 percent of these inspections take place five years after they are due, the analysis found.

“What we gave you is just not feasible. What we have handed down to our condominium associations is simply not possible. It’s just not possible,” Pizzo said, turning to the DeSantis administration.

Lawmakers would have to pass new legislation to implement the Florida Building Commission’s recommendation, but it’s unclear if there’s the will to reverse such a key section of the law they passed last year.

Copyright 2023 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

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