By Rich Pollack

Highland Beach commissioners have revised a proposed ordinance requiring building recertifications to put more responsibility for how inspections are done onto the shoulders of condo boards.
Under an updated draft ordinance — tentatively approved last month — buildings that are more than three stories or 50 feet in height will still be required to have a recertification inspection when they reach 25 years old.
For buildings under 40 years old, those inspections will be required every 10 years. For the 45 buildings more than 40 years old, inspections will be required every seven years.
The revised ordinance, however, takes the town out of determining how electrical and structural inspections should be done, leaving much of that up to certified special threshold engineers and inspectors hired by each of the buildings.
At the same time, the town now wants to hear about only issues that affect the safety of residents instead of other issues that could cause minor inconveniences or that are cosmetic in nature.
“The commission didn’t want us enforcing non-critical deficiencies,” Town Manager Marshall Labadie said. “Now we’re only asking if there are any critical and major deficiencies that need to be addressed in the structure and in electrical systems.”
Certified engineers hired by associations will be responsible for making that determination.
“It is up to the engineers and inspectors to say if immediate attention is needed,” Highland Beach Building Official Jeff Remus told commissioners during a meeting last month.
In essence, Labadie said, the town’s role will be largely administrative — letting building managers and boards know when an engineering report needs to be filed, making sure it is filed and ensuring any work identified is done in the time frame engineers identify.
“The town wants to limit our liability exposure,” Labadie said. “Our primary role is to facilitate the process.”
The proposed ordinance makes it clear that the town’s building department will not be conducting inspections, nor will it be responsible for arranging for inspections.
“We got out of the means and methods and are now focusing on results,” Labadie said. Commissioners did want to make sure that the building department staff would be available to work with associations during the process.
Once the Town Commission gives final approval to the ordinance, expected this month, Remus and his team can begin notifying associations of when reports need to be filed.
Labadie said that Remus would notify managers of two buildings per month, beginning in January, that they have 360 days to file reports from certified engineers that detail any critical or major structural or electrical problems.
The associations would then have another year to resolve the issues unless residents faced imminent danger, in which case the town would step in and, in the worst scenario, require evacuation.
Labadie said that any violations, including failure to submit reports in a timely manner, would be handled through the town’s code enforcement process.
“I think most buildings will comply,” Mayor Doug Hillman said.
The decision to create a recertification inspection process follows the collapse of Surfside’s 12-story Champlain Towers South in June. “We’re always concerned about the safety of our residents,” Commissioner Evalyn David said. “We don’t want to see a Surfside happen here.”
Recently, Palm Beach County commissioners agreed to put their development of recertification regulations on hold pending the completion of regulations the state is developing.
While Highland Beach commissioners know state restrictions could be coming, they have said the town needs its own ordinance, tailored to its geography.
“Especially on a barrier island, with our buildings taking punishment from the weather, we need this kind of oversight,” Commissioner John Shoemaker said.

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