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How safe are Florida buildings?

Condo Building Collapse Miami Surfside
Posted at 5:45 PM, Nov 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-29 17:45:06-05

MIAMI, Fla. — It has been more than a year since the Surfside Condominium collapsed. Since then, in Miami, Florida, there have been several evacuations and partial collapses in buildings deemed unsafe.  

“What I have noticed, the one thing in common with a lot of these places is maintenance or lack thereof,” explained forensic engineer Rick De La Guardia.  

De La Guardia is one of many who extensively researched the Surfside collapse. An ongoing federal investigation has pointed to several possible causes. One of which, as investigators showcased in a video they released last year, is evidence of corrosion.  

“If Surfside, if those repairs would have happened in 2018, that there is a high likelihood that it wouldn’t have occurred,” explains De La Guardia. “And you had enough warning in 2018; you had an engineer telling you there was a potential design flaw, a lot of spalling, there was areas in need of immediate attention.”  

In cases like Surfside, De La Guardia stated most of the damage is due to saltwater intrusion, which corrodes steel pipes and, in turn, expands concrete structures. But there are recent incidents within the last month that have brought building safety back into the forefront.

In Hialeah, an apartment building was deemed unsafe after part of its walkway collapsed. Hialeah’s mayor said the 60-year-old building passed re-certification in 2018. And in Miami Beach, the 14-story Port Royale Condominium was evacuated while undergoing 50-year recertification. According to an inspection report provided by the City of Miami Beach, a main support beam had shifted, along with spalling and water leaks.

De La Guardia believed the culprit is a flawed process that starts with condo boards.  

“Condo boards are typically the ones with too much power and are not provided with oversight. For example, if there is an inspection report that says that work needs to be done, nobody is going to be overseeing them, that the work actually gets done,” he explains.  

And after Surfside, lawmakers hoped that would change. They made alterations to the re-certification process, saying that multi-family buildings -- three stories or more -- need to be re-certified every 30 years, then every ten years after that.  

For buildings near the coastline, it happens every 25 years. But De La Guardia thinks more needs to be done to keep people safe.   He hopes oversight teams get created, as well as making sure every building has qualified professionals making life-saving decisions.  

“Most buildings don’t have engineers,” shares De La Guardia. “They have an engineering department, they call them engineers, but they are essentially glorified handy people; they don’t have the knowledge of the skills to determine when repairs of a structural nature need to be made.”  

As for the recent evacuations in South Florida, a Port Royale employee told Florida 24 Network that all employees had moved back into the condominium but would not answer questions on whether engineers had returned to survey the space.

As for the apartment building in Hialeah, dozens of families were relocated by the Red Cross in October. Since then, according to County Commissioner Rene Garcia, many of them were given the option to break their lease and have found accommodations elsewhere.  

Garcia also shares that the City of Hialeah is now working with the owner of the property to get the proper permits to do everything in their power to make the building habitable once again.