BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – When most buildings in Miami-Dade and Broward counties reach 40 years of age, building owners are required to seek recertification from the local government by hiring an engineer or architect to verify their building is structurally sound.
Similar requirements to recertify older buildings do not exist in most other parts of the state, News 6 has learned, including Central Florida counties like Brevard and Volusia.
“I understand there are people who don’t want regulation, in terms of a government agency,” Miami-based engineer John Pistorino said. “But [other] regulations are already there.”
The Florida Building Code establishes statewide minimum standards for building construction and maintenance but does not dictate how frequently structures must be inspected and repaired.
Miami-Dade and Broward counties have additional local ordinances requiring older buildings to be recertified.
“Of course, my advice is to do it,” said Pistorino, who was involved in the creation of Miami-Dade’s ordinance four decades ago.
Pistorino was working as an engineering consultant for Miami-Dade County’s building department in 1974 when the roof collapsed at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s Miami office.
Seven people were killed, and more than a dozen were injured.
Investigators concluded salt had eroded and weakened the concrete building’s steel structure, according to the DEA.
“The salt gets into the concrete through the water, and the salt is very corrosive,” Pistorino said. “The building was almost 40 years old, and that’s what it took to create this deterioration. So that’s why I picked 40 years as being the criteria.”
Under Miami-Dade County’s ordinance, most buildings in existence for 40 years or longer must undergo a mandatory inspection by a professional engineer or architect.
Single-family homes, duplexes, buildings under 2,000 square feet or those that house fewer than ten people are exempt from recertification.
The engineer or architect, typically hired by the building owner, must produce a written report certifying the building is structurally and electrically safe.
“If, for any reason, the building doesn’t comply, then that gives the building official the legal authority to issue a violation,” said Pistorino, who indicated the county can withdraw the building’s certificate of occupancy if deficiencies are not corrected.
A typical engineering inspection on a 20-story building with 150 units costs roughly $15,000 to $20,000, according to Pistorino.
“Back in 1974 there was pushback saying, ‘Well, all you’re doing is making more work for engineers,’” Pistorino said. “No, it’s all about life safety. That’s what engineers are about. Life safety.”
The Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside was in the midst of its 40-year recertification when a portion of the 12-story building collapsed June 24.
The cause of the deadly collapse has not yet been determined.
BREVARD AND VOLUSIA COUNTIES DO NOT RECERTIFY OLDER BUILDINGS
Like most other Florida municipalities, Brevard and Volusia Counties do not mandate inspections on older buildings or require government recertification of structures when they reach a certain age.
Instead, building owners are generally responsible for ensuring their own properties are structurally safe, although local code enforcement officials may respond to complaints.
In Brevard County, 440 residential condominiums are 40 years of age or older, with more than 100 constructed in the 1950′s and 1960′s, county property records show.
While most of those older condos are less than four stories tall, about 75 older condos range in height from five stories to 16 stories.
Volusia County has nearly 150 residential condominiums built prior to 1982, including a dozen ranging in height from 20 to 28 stories.
Brevard and Volusia counties also have many hotels, commercial office buildings and other structures that are at least 40 years old.
“The state of Florida has a Florida Building Code that was enacted March 1, 2002, to institute minimum standardized practices in regards to inspections and permitting in the state,” said a Volusia County government spokesperson in response to questions from News 6. “The state does not currently have a requirement for re-inspection of structures, but Broward and Miami-Dade counties have local requirements that pre-existed the Florida Building Code.”
Likewise, Brevard County government follows the Florida Building Code.
“We do not do annual inspections, but if we get a call or a complaint, we have Code Enforcement,” said a spokesperson for Brevard County government. “If something was determined to be unsafe, we would do our due diligence to either get the building in compliance or shut it down.”
The county cited its closure of Versailles Sur La Mer, a 40-year-old condo in Melbourne Beach that was severely damaged during Hurricane Irma in September 2017. The building remains vacant while repairs are underway.
In the absence of local ordinances, building owners are solely responsible for initiating inspections and following through on necessary fixes.
Canaveral Towers condominium in Cape Canaveral, built in 1975, is currently undergoing a major concrete restoration project as part of the building’s routine maintenance program.
“I walk these floors every day, checking everything,” longtime building maintenance supervisor Ron Wrobleski said. “I note it all. I hand my information to the [condo] board. And then the board refers everything to the engineer. I walk with the engineers and we set up a contract.”
Wrobleski praised the condo’s board for proactively maintaining the beachfront property, which he compared to a boat that is constantly being battered by wind and salt water.
That salt water can be absorbed by the condo’s concrete walls and eventually corrode the steel rebar reinforcements embedded inside, causing the concrete to crack.
“It’s easy enough to fix if you find it soon enough. You can’t push off this work,” said Wrobleski, who said the condo is undergoing its third major restoration since he began working there two decades ago. “This building could be built today. Within 10 years it will need concrete restoration.”
While most building owners and condominium associations properly budget for ongoing maintenance, Pistorino, the Miami engineer, said some owners focus more on cosmetic repairs.
“They’d rather spend their money on upgrading interior finishes and not looking at the real structure underneath,” Pistorino said.
LOCAL ELECTED LEADERS REACT
News 6 contacted all elected commissioners in Brevard and Volusia counties to gauge their thoughts on Miami-Dade County’s 40-year building recertification requirements.
Brevard County Chair Rita Pritchett was not immediately familiar with the ordinances in South Florida but said she planned to learn more about them to determine whether changes were needed locally.
Bryan Lober, another Brevard County commissioner, said he would defer to the county’s professional engineers as to whether there is a need for local building recertification.
“While I generally oppose governmental regulation, I do not oppose reasonable and justifiable regulation when it comes to legitimate public health and safety considerations when the market has proven it is incapable of adequate self-regulation,” Lober said.
He added, “While I genuinely empathize with those who have lost loved ones due to the recent tragedy, I will not engage in a knee-jerk reaction to recent events irrespective of how politically expedient that might be. Any action must be well thought out and not done impulsively simply to placate constituents.”
“At this time my thoughts and prayers are with these families,” Volusia County council member Barb Girtman said, referring to the deadly Surfside condo collapse. “Regarding recertification, I am interested to know if related codes should be reviewed.”
Volusia County Chair Jeff Brower suggested oversight should extend beyond residential condos.
“I do believe we need to begin periodic inspections, especially of our coastal hotels and motels,” Brower said. “This is especially important for businesses that have subsurface facilities underneath a main structure or area where people congregate