Tragic deaths from structural collapse of multifamily residential buildings and their balconies occurred in several states in recent years, followed by regulations aimed at preventing them. Awareness and understanding of these regulations is critical, as well as the potential liability risks. More states and cities will likely follow in introducing new legislation, and your properties may be affected. Read on for more on the current regulatory landscape.
The Surfside, FL condo collapse that shocked the nation
In one of the worst building collapses in U.S. history, at approximately 1:20 a.m. on June 24, 2021, in Surfside, Florida, a 12-story condo building partially collapsed within minutes, claiming the lives of 98 residents. Only three survived the initial collapse, while about three dozen escaped the surviving portion of the building. In their investigative story, the Miami Herald reported that over the past 40 years, design failures, shoddy construction, damage and neglect had “lined up like dominoes to create the perfect conditions for a deadly chain reaction.”
The legislative response was swift. In a unanimous decision, the Florida state legislature passed a new condo inspection law—Senate Bill 4D—stipulating that any residential complex 30 years or older must be inspected for structural integrity and inspected again every 10 years thereafter. If the structure is within three miles of the coast, the requirements are slightly more stringent: inspection must occur at 25 years of age and every 10 years thereafter.
The new law also requires condo associations to keep sufficient reserve funding for necessary repairs and maintenance, and to keep all safety and inspection records on hand and available to prospective buyers and renters. All buildings meeting the criteria are to register with the state by January 1, 2023, and inspection reports must be completed by December 31, 2024. However, Florida is not the only state to experience structural deficiency-related tragedies.
California’s response to two tragedies
In Berkeley, California, seven students were killed and six injured in a balcony collapse in 2015. This led to legislation passed in 2019 (Senate Bills 721 and 326) requiring the inspection of decks, balconies and other exterior elevated elements (EEEs) in multifamily residential units every six or nine years, depending on the structure.
The updates to the California Balcony Ordinance took effect January 1, 2019, and the deadline for inspections is January 1, 2025. But unfortunately, its relevance was recently underlined September 16, 2022, when the balcony of a two-story, single-family home collapsed in Daly City, CA, leaving two adults and two children rushed to a trauma center. While single-family homes are not covered by the ordinance, the tragic reality remains the same.
These tragedies have grown more frequent and widespread, and California and Florida will not be the only ones to implement such ordinances. More cities and states are sure to follow. Yet building owners are not only concerned with compliance, but the liability risks posed by unsafe EEEs or structural deficiencies.
Building codes, ordinances and laws establish minimum requirements, so compliance only goes so far in reducing your risk. You need a multi-disciplinary approach to maintenance, compliance and overcoming design or construction quality deficiencies.
EBI provides full-spectrum engineering services to assess property risk in existing or proposed structures. With decades of experience, our experts help reduce risk and minimize liability by proactively evaluating property risk and ensuring compliance. We help you develop a plan that incorporates asset management considerations and minimizes downtime and loss of revenue.