Lessons from the Catastrophe at Surfside Beach

By Russell E. Klemm, Partner & Litigation Manager
The recent catastrophic collapse of the condominium building in Surfside, Florida, was a tremendous shock to all Floridians and, particularly, to condominium residents.
There are also lessons to be learned from this tragedy, which every high-rise condominium association, should be cognizant of. The Champlain Towers were in the midst of a required 40-year structural analysis, when the collapse occurred. The requirement for such a structural evaluation and report is not unique to the area (Dade County). However, the requirements for such a structural inspection and report vary by Counties in Florida. Florida high-rise condominiums that are in areas that do not have a requirement for structural inspections, should, nevertheless, consider having a comprehensive structural inspection and evaluation done if the building is 30-years or even 20-years old. Scheduling an appointment with a qualified Florida structural engineer is worth the cost and all older Florida high-rise condominiums should consider doing so.
As would be expected, Florida civil engineers and structural engineers are in great demand. Condominium associations seeking to retain such an expert may experience a delay in doing so. It is also important to examine the consulting engineer’s credentials, to ensure that only a licensed civil engineer or structural engineer be retained. A list of qualifying engineers may be obtained at the American Society of Engineers’ website at: www.asce.org and at the American Society of Structural Engineers at www.asce.org/structural-engineering/structural-engineering-institute. Another important credential is certification by the ”Structural Engineering Certification Board.”
An additional concern is insurance coverage in the coming year for high-rise condominiums. If you are in a high-rise condominium, you can expect higher premiums or, in some cases, cancellation of your policy and the inability to obtain a new policy. If your association faces this situation, your association should contact the Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, which is a Florida not-for-profit corporation and the insurer of last resort in the State of Florida.
One positive note from the tragedy in Surfside will be a heightened awareness of the structural integrity of high-rise condominium buildings and hopefully the willingness of condominium associations to address any structural issues, without unnecessary delay.

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