Miami Beach Reports 22 Percent of Buildings in 40/50-Year Recertification Process Have Not Produced Required Professional Reports on Safety

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Miami Beach Reports 22 Percent of Buildings in 40/50-Year Recertification Process Have Not Produced Required Professional Reports on Safety:

Following Surfside tragedy, City began emergency review

Miami Beach, like other local municipalities, began an emergency review process of all buildings in the 40/50-year recertification process after the Champlain Towers collapse in late June. This week, City Manager Alina Hudak said 22% of them have yet to produce the required professional reports attesting to their structural and electrical conditions. At the City Commission meeting on Wednesday, Hudak said the Building Department is following up with each of those building owners and “Depending on the outcome of that follow up, there will be a referral to the Unsafe Structures Board or Special Master.” 

Less than a week after the Champlain Towers collapse, Hudak ordered visual inspections of 507 buildings going through the 40/50-year process and gave each of them 21 days to provide documentation from a licensed professional that each is safe for occupancy. As a result of the inspections, the City listed nine buildings of concern and, shortly after, ordered one of them – the Devon Apartments at 6881 Indian Creek – evacuated. The professional reports were due July 19.

Champlain Towers was getting ready to go through its 40-year certification as required but the deterioration of the stucco and rebar from the impact of more extreme conditions due to climate change and sea level rise raised concerns about buildings that had yet to go through the process and led to calls for earlier inspections

Hudak said her team continues to meet daily to review the status of the buildings in the recertification process. She noted 148 buildings have submitted engineer’s reports; 22% have either finished the recertification process or are underway with repairs to complete the process; and 55% either have a permit to perform repairs or submitted completed engineer’s reports.

Among the changes being discussed is an unsafe structure board within the City of Miami Beach to “expedite that process for our residents and businesses,” Hudak said. WLRN reported last week the County Board has an estimated 1,000-case backlog of unsafe structures.

In addition, she said, Miami Beach is part of an informal working group that includes Miami-Dade County and other local jurisdictions that has been meeting regularly since Surfside. The group focuses mostly on the building codes, specifically, and not the condo regulatory process.

Mayor Dan Gelber emphasized there will be a more formal process to create a County-wide effort at uniform changes.

Hudak concurred and emphasized she didn’t want to “get ahead of the County process” as there is the possibility the County “will pass something stricter that supercedes whatever the City passes” and that would “create a lot of confusion.”

“It’s important that we provide leadership and ideas but that we also work collaboratively and make sure that legislation that is passing here is parallel to what is happening at the County,” she said.

Miami Beach Building Official Ana Salgueiro said some of the changes being discussed at the County level and in another working group with local building directors include a requirement for the recertification process to begin sooner than 40 years and stricter requirements for construction of buildings over 4-stories and with more than 300 people, among other things.

The idea of the working groups, she said, is “to get a consensus” on a County or State Building Code amendment.

Several Commissioners emphasized to Salgueiro that they would add resources to her department if she needed them. She responded she has added staffing to conduct reviews, extended the hours of the in-house structural engineers, and requested additional engineers through the City’s consulting contract. In addition to the proactive inspections, Salgueiro said the Building Department is tracking all email and phone call reports of concerns and sends inspectors out to review conditions in those buildings within a day.

Commissioner Micky Steinberg reiterated her plan to bring legislation back to the Commission in September to require engineers and architects to submit their reports to the City noting any safety concerns. Salgueiro said that is also being discussed at the County level. Steinberg said “until the County catches up,” she wants to City to move in that direction quickly.

Steinberg will also bring legislation back as early as September that would incentivize owners to complete structural, electrical and other repairs in nonconforming residential buildings. Those buildings met all Code requirements when built but as requirements changed, the buildings no longer met the Code, making then legal, nonconforming structures. Under current law, if the value of improvements exceeds 50% of the value of the building, the entire building must be brought up to current code including meeting current FAR (Floor Area Ratio), height, and setback limits in order to not lose its legal, nonconforming status. In other words, the building might have to be torn down and rebuilt smaller. That provision has kept some owners from making improvements because it is difficult to not trip the 50% threshold given the cost.

Steinberg called the rule “arbitrary” and said it “could delay real, life safety work.”

Proper waterproofing of buildings, beginning with when they are constructed, is a concern that Commissioner Steven Meiner raised. Salgueiro noted that, while the Florida Building Code addresses requirements for building in coastal zones, there is no definition of coastal zones leaving the interpretation up to “whatever the engineer decides” for a project. The group is working on a definition of coastal zones that could be added to either the County or Florida Building Code. That would help, she said, “not just with one portion of a building” such as a pool deck, “but with waterproofing of the building envelope,” the entire exterior of a building.

Commissioner Michael Góngora delayed his request for a broader discussion on the Code and inspection requirements until September when more information would be available on what is being discussed at both the City and County levels. 

If you have concerns about a building, information on contacting the building department is here.


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