After Surfside Tower collapses, apartment dwellers outside Florida are wondering if they should worry

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‘Do you know how much they charge for one night at the hotel next door? A thousand dollars,” Gold said, wearing a driver’s cap over bespectacled eyes and a thick white mustache on his balcony, his wife Cila by his side. “I got it here for free.”

“I am confident this building is safe,” he said. “You know you have a twin family. I mean two brothers and the same genes. But they are not the same. One can be a criminal and the other a doctor.’

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But some of Gold’s neighbors and residents of other coastal properties in Florida and beyond aren’t quite as confident. They have been feeling anxious and nervous since the tragedy of June 24.

“Every resident of every association, every apartment took this personally. Every professional took this personally and was really moved emotionally by it,” said Tom Skiba, CEO of the Community Associations Institute, after a brief visit to Surfside after the collapse.

Those concerns are being felt outside of South Florida, where emergency re-inspections of other aging buildings prompted evacuations in at least four other residential structures deemed unsafe.

“Not just our organization, but every professional in the industry, every board, every manager had tons of calls. Just people asking questions: Could this be happening in my community, in my building? Should I be concerned about this?” said Skiba, whose organization advocates for homeowners’ associations.

‘Some people are mainly concerned’

While the cause of the Surfside collapse is still under investigation, the disaster has sparked assessments of high-rise condominiums in the area.

“People are concerned,” said Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett. “Some people are especially concerned.”

One building in South Florida that has sounded the alarm is: Crestview Towers, about seven miles north of the Surfside condo. The City of North Miami Beach earlier this month ordered the immediate closure and evacuation of about 300 people after a report found the structure to be unsafe.
North Miami Beach orders immediate closure of condominium deemed unsafe

“What upset me the most is that management had been aware of it since January,” said Harold Dauphin, a resident of Crestview, of the building’s structural and electrical issues.

According to city manager Arthur H. Sorey III, Crestview Towers was deemed structurally and electrically unsafe based on a delinquent recertification report for the nearly 50-year-old building.

Crestview’s attorney did not respond to multiple CNN requests for comment.

The report is dated Jan. 11, 2021 and was filed on July 2, Sorey said. In it, an engineer recruited by the condominium association noted the building’s structural and electrical flaws.

North Miami Beach ordered the closure of the Crestview Towers condominium building.

“As a resident, we didn’t realize the situation,” complained Estefania Grajales, who also lives in Crestview.

Dauphin even said he first learned of the evacuations when he picked up his 7-year-old child from the camp. As he recently approached the residence, he said he saw helicopters flying overhead and police on the property – floor to floor – assisting with the evacuation.

“I understand the call,” he said of the evacuation order. “It’s great to know what happened at Surfside. So it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Surfside inspectors visited Champlain Towers South dozens of times.  Now the collapse calls for reform
Before it collapsed, Champlain Towers South was regularly visited by officials in recent years. In 2018 and 2019, inspectors from the City of Surfside conducted permit-related inspections at the condo tower more than once a week, on average, according to one CNN analysis of city records.
But even when an engineer hired by the building’s condo board warned against… “major structural damage” on the property — and as residents bickered over funding for expensive repairs — there seems to be no record of city officials raising red flags. Their job was to ensure compliance with permits for plumbing upgrades, air conditioning repairs, and window installations—not to evaluate the structure of the building.
The Champlain Towers South Condominium Association, which has been named in lawsuits accusing it of not maintaining the building, released a statement earlier this month “Answers will take time as part of a comprehensive investigation and we will continue to work with city, state, local and federal officials in their rescue efforts and to understand the causes of this tragedy.”

“What’s the status of our buildings here?”

Concerns about the structural integrity of condominiums extend beyond the high-rise residents of Florida’s 1,350-mile coastline.

According to the Community Associations Institute, approximately 30 million people live in condominiums in the US.

In New York, three senators are urging the state department for building standards and codes: stricter requirements for aging high-rise buildings in coastal communities, including mandating annual inspections.

“We share some similarities with Florida’s high-rise coastline,” said Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a New York State Democrat, of Long Island. “We ask ourselves: What is the status? from our buildings here?”

In a letter earlier this month, Kaminsky and two other senators also asked the division’s code development unit to reassess standards for construction in high-risk coastal areas.

“We’re hearing from concerned voters wondering about the structural integrity of their buildings,” the letter said.

‘Maybe there are people who don’t like the answer’

Skiba said rules about condo reserves — or how much money the shelves should have on hand to repair a building — vary by state. But Surfside’s collapse highlights the need for a backup standard to address structural integrity.

“The reserve standards do not address structural issues,” he said. “They address replacement items that are usually addressed due to age or wear.”

An independent budget review had warned the Champlain Towers South condo association that its financial reserves were critically underfunded in the face of urgently needed structural repairs just over a year before the building collapsed, according to a report. document obtained by CNN.

Joel Figueroa-Vallines, a fellow with the American Society of Civil Engineers, expressed concern about hundreds of aging properties in South Florida.

“We know there may not have been proper maintenance or quality control,” he said of the Surfside condominium. “So let’s go outside. Let’s talk to the associations. Let’s try to inspect them and then move on.’

Rabbi: What we're trying to do for the mourners at Surfside
Allyn Kilsheimer, an 80-year-old structural engineer and veteran of forensics in disasters such as the post-9/11 Pentagon and the collapse of a pedestrian bridge at Florida International University in Miami, has been hired by the city of Surfside.

Kilsheimer has examined the Champlain Towers North building, ordering tiles pulled from the pool deck and drilling concrete samples from walls for a series of tests he hopes will explain what led to the collapse of Champlain Towers South.

“There’s nothing I know here so far that tells me this is symptomatic of condominiums in the United States of America,” he said.

His work is only one part of overlapping investigations involving detectives, local prosecutors and government engineers that can take years to complete.

“We’ll work it out,” Kilsheimer said. “Maybe there are people who don’t like the answer. But we’ll figure it out.’

The North Tower, a sister of Champlain Towers South, had the same design architect and structural engineer.

“Same construction, same developer, same name, probably same materials,” Burkett said.

Gold has lived in the North Tower since 1981, the year it was built, and was president of the condo association for ten years. He has no plans to leave, although many neighbors have left.

“I don’t blame them for moving,” he said. “Everyone has to make their own decisions. It’s like flying. Some people are afraid to fly.”

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