By Rich Pollack
Armed with newly minted building recertification requirements drafted following the collapse of Surfside’s Champlain Towers South, Highland Beach’s building department has begun notifying a handful of condominium associations and others of when they must file a detailed inspection report with the town.
Last month, Building Official Jeff Remas sent letters to six of the town’s oldest buildings informing them of the town’s new recertification ordinance and letting them know the due date — within 365 days from receipt of the letter — to file reports from specialized threshold inspectors and electrical engineers.
Under the carefully crafted ordinance adopted in November, buildings that are more than three stories or 50 feet in height are required to have a recertification inspection when the building reaches 25 years old.
Buildings that are 40 years old and older are required to be inspected every seven years and buildings that are more than 25 years old are required to be inspected every 10 years.
Two of the buildings that have already received notice of deadlines will have until January 2023 to file an inspection report, two others will have until February of that year and two more until March 2023.
Deadlines for the remaining 44 buildings requiring inspections will be staggered, with two associations a month needing to file reports on the identified deadline date.
“Our goal is to make sure property owners have adequate time to turn in their paperwork,” Remas said.
A little more than half of the 50 buildings are 40 years old or more.
Highland Beach’s ordinance put the responsibility for inspections on individual condominiums, requiring them to hire qualified inspectors who must complete the detailed report and file it with the town.
The report requirements will focus specifically on critical and major deficiencies impacting safety and will not address cosmetic issues.
“Our ordinance makes for a safer community because the requirements are solely about safety,” Remas said.
The timing for when identified issues should be addressed will be determined by the inspectors.
“It is up to the engineers and inspectors to say if immediate attention is needed,” Remas told town commissioners during a meeting in October. “They are the ones who determine the condition of the building.”
While the town’s role will be largely administrative, the ordinance allows the building official to ensure that buildings meet the recommendations of the inspectors within the time line specified in the report.
“This requires them to follow through after the inspection,” Remas said, adding that failure to meet recommendations from inspectors was identified as an issue at Champlain Towers.
According to Highland Beach Town Manager Marshall Labadie, any violations, including failure to submit reports in a timely manner, will be handled through the town’s code enforcement process.
While all buildings will be given at least a year to file inspection reports, Remas says condominiums can file reports from recent inspections as long as all of the requirements are addressed.
In addition to his letter — which was sent by certified mail and hand-delivered — Remas has included a summary of the town’s recertification ordinance, listing some but not all of the requirements.
The letter also asks associations to encourage their engineers to register with the town as a certified threshold inspector in order to help Highland Beach develop a list that can be available to other buildings.
Remas said it is imperative that inspectors and engineers read the ordinance — available on the town’s website — and contact him with any questions.