By Mary Hladky
In the wake of the horrific Surfside condo collapse, Boca Raton is moving rapidly to enact rules that would require buildings to be inspected for safety.
Mayor Scott Singer said that a new ordinance will be discussed at the City Council’s next meetings on July 26 and 27, and could be enacted in August.
Singer and city staff envision tougher standards than those in place in Miami-Dade County, where licensed engineers or architects must certify a building’s safety or document needed repairs after it turns 40, and then every 10 years after that, to meet recertification standards.
The city doesn’t want to wait until a building is 40 years old to inspect it and start any needed repairs, Singer said.
“By putting in recertification standards, we can provide greater protection and safeguards for the residents than what we already have,” Singer said on June 29.
City staff are hammering out details, but Singer said at a July 13 town hall meeting that certification could be required when a building is 30 years old, or possibly earlier than that.
Also under consideration is requiring certification for all buildings that are at least three stories tall. Another option would be requiring it for buildings of a certain height.
Reporting requirements could be part of the ordinance, such as mandating that engineers must provide the city with building inspection reports.
The ordinance will be limited to building safety. It will not deal with other matters such as condominium reserve funds for repairs or condo board management which likely fall under state control.
The state Legislature may take its own action, but since it won’t be in session again until January, “I thought it was important to move now,” Singer said.
Singer would like the city to be the first in the county to adopt new rules. But as other cities and the county also consider their own rules, he said Boca Raton’s ordinance could be revised if a consensus is reached among governments about the best way to proceed.
“All along I thought coordination and collaboration among governments is a good thing,” he said. “I just knew we wanted to act first and maybe in our acting we are encouraging others to act as well.
“We will work together to harmonize and not have conflicting or confusing regulations,” he added. “The goal is safety and it is a shared goal.”
Miami-Dade created the 40-year recertification requirement in 1974 after the collapse of a 30-year-old office building in downtown Miami that killed seven people. Broward County adopted similar rules in 2005.
Palm Beach County, however, never followed suit. It’s up to condominium boards to make sure their buildings are adequately maintained. In Boca, Singer said the La Fontana condo at 2003 N. Ocean Blvd. is nearing completion of a very costly restoration.
Yet the decision to begin expensive repairs can be fraught, with some condo owners resisting projects that will require paying hefty special assessments.
The board of Surfside’s Champlain Towers South first learned their building needed extensive repairs in 2018. Although its board levied special assessments and arranged financing, work had just begun when it collapsed in the middle of the night on June 24 as many of its residents were sleeping.
The project cost had risen from $9 million in 2018 to $15 million before the collapse, the Miami Herald has reported.
But the scope of the tragedy has pushed Miami-Dade leaders to toughen standards even more. For example, Miami Beach has begun visual inspections of the 507 buildings in the city that require 40-year recertification, according to the Herald.
An analysis by The Coastal Star of Palm Beach County property records shows 73 condo/co-ops located on the barrier island in Boca Raton. Of these, 56 were built before 1982.