Buildings require regular upkeep and maintenance in order to be safe for residents. Although this may seem obvious, building maintenance can often be neglected to the last minute, posing threats to residents. Luckily, building codes have been enacted to keep both residents and visitors safe, often from an association board’s naiveté.
After all, maintenance work can be expensive and intrusive. However, if buildings take a proactive approach, then unnecessary tragedies can be avoided.
Codes V. Responsibility
Florida’s strict building codes are established primarily to protect residents from tropical storms and deluges. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Florida HOAs do not have any specific inspection requirements. “Associations can’t wait to maintain their building,” says John Pistorino, a principal at Pistorino & Alam Consulting Engineers in South Miami. “The building code has sections in it requiring that you maintain the building in the condition it was originally built. It’s a code violation if you let things deteriorate to where they fall apart,” he says.
Associations have to organize their own inspections and make sure they’re meeting code by their own volition. “Most towns don’t just walk around properties,” says Jay Steven Levine, founding shareholder of Levine Law Group in Boca Raton. “Every jurisdiction can be different, but inspections are usually in connection with a construction project, or if someone complains.”
The only exceptions in the state are Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Miami-Dade was moved to create some oversight in 1975 after a building collapse, and just in the last few years Broward adopted the same ordinance. The inspection schedule begins when the building reaches its 40th year, and repeats every ten years thereafter. “Dade and Broward send out notices to associations that buildings have to be inspected by a structural and an electrical engineer,” says Pistorino.
The 40-year inspection in Broward and Miami-Dade cover the most critical aspects of an aging building. For most high-rise owners, this tends to be the balconies. Buildings have to pay close attention to the structural integrity of rails and weigh-bearing loads.
“Railings are inspected to make sure they’re in good condition and they’re going to hold the weight of someone who inadvertently falls against a rail,” says Pistorino. “They’re supposed to hold about 200 pounds of concentrated load.”
“In the coastal areas, the most important thing is deterioration of concrete due to the chloride brought in from the ocean,” says Raul Schwerdt, PE, president of RAS Engineering, P.A. in Hallandale. On the coast, inspectors are more likely to look for that type of corrosion than farther inland.
With few exceptions, what engineers look for, and the rubric they use to decide what structures are safe, is entirely based on their own judgment—local building officials don’t really weigh in unless a complaint is filed. “Everything relies on the engineer’s interpretation of the ordinance,” Schwerdt continues. “Some interpret a failed inspection as imminent danger of collapse, and others interpret that the building is safe enough for the next 10 years of the cycle.”