Experts Say a Repealed Florida Law Could Have Prevented the Miami Building Collapse

It would have required expert inspections of the building.
Brad Bergan
The Miami high-rise, post-collapse.Miami Dade-Fire Rescue / Twitter

Last month, a high-rise building in Florida experienced a cataclysmic collapse, killing at least 60 people with another 80 people missing, but it turns out there may be more to the story than critical structural disrepair.

After years of ongoing disputes and delays, the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association started a frantic search for $16.2 million to repair serious structural damage that officials thought might become a major threat to the high-rise building, and a repealed law might have played a role in the incident, according to a recent NBC News report.

As of writing, a building inspector with the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association hasn't replied to requests from IE for comments.

A law requiring engineer or architect inspections was repealed in 2010

The dramatic collapse went down before the condo board could gather the requisite funds to pursue repairs, but the ultimate cause of the collapse remains unknown. As of writing, experts, advocates, and investigators are working to confirm or discount the structural issues, in addition to a Florida law regulating condo repairs that might have saved the high-rise, if only it hadn't been repealed a decade ago.

Condo boards can typically keep track of repairs via a "reserve study", which involves certified specialists or engineers assessing the buildings once per few years to give the boards an estimation of how much money is needed from residents to address forthcoming fixes. Financial documents obtained by NBC Miami and NBC News suggest that Champlain Towers South hadn't completed a professional reserve study since 2016, or earlier. There's nothing illegal about this, but it implies planning was left in the hands of the board, which may have a high turnover rate of purely volunteers with slim training credentials in building maintenance.

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"If the owners would have had a reserve study, if the board was proactive and had funded its reserves, this never would have happened," said former Republican state legislator Julio Robaina, who sponsored a 2008 law that requires condo associations to hire architects or engineers to provide reports once per five years describing the financial needs for repairs. The law survived for two years before being repealed in 2010, due to resistance from property managers and real estate lawyers, according to Robaina.

Aging buildings require adequate funds for repairs

Once repealed, the law left Florida's condo residence with less protection than residents in nine other states with legal requirements for reserve studies, according to the report. Florida has regulations for reserves, but it's also one of three with gaps in the law that allow owners to "opt-out" of these, according to the Community Associations Institute, a nonprofit advocating for condo associations. "One of the steps that should be taken by a building, especially in an aging building, is having adequate funds available so that when you have to face significant cost challenges there's an appropriate amount of money available," said a South Florida lawyer representing condo associations to NBC News.

"In postponing inspections, reserve studies and — ultimately — complete repairs or renovations, boards often end up facing an exponentially more comprehensive and expensive project in the long run," read a survey report from the Community Associations Institute. While no one is pointing fingers quite yet, one thing is certain: a high-rise building collapse involving this many deaths and missing persons requires a serious investigation, not only in the engineering, but in the management of upkeep to the structure.

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