The collapse of the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside, Florida in 2021, which left 98 dead, triggered several legislative actions to prevent similar catastrophic events from recurring – and Pinellas County officials want to adopt the latest set of those building requirements.
The initial bill, Senate Bill 4D, was adopted in the special session and was signed into law, regulating structural inspections of condominiums three stories or higher that are at least 30 years old.
“The statute in its first form raised lots of issues and concerns, starting with the issue of capacity,” Kevin McAndrew, director of building and development review services, said during a Thursday Pinellas County Commission meeting.
At the time of the new bill, there were 1.5 million condo units in Florida, and nearly two-thirds of those were over 30 years old and would qualify for inspections, but there was and still is a shortage of qualified engineers to fulfill the job. There were also issues regarding the inconsistent standardization, extent of the inspections, enforcement and deliverables.
The bill has since been restructured with better clarifications and was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis in June. The bill, SB 154, has different components, including a structural study to evaluate condo roofs, fire protection and the life expectancy of buildings. It would also assign dollar values to the needed work.
“Staff is not recommending any deviation from the 30-year [building] statute age,” McAndrew said. Additionally, the condo inspections would commence every 10 years thereafter.
There would be a two-part inspection phase. Phase 1 entails a visual inspection performed by a qualified team to look at any substantial deterioration. If damage is discovered upon inspection, Phase 2 would be required to validate the remedial work needed and the condo association would have to form a plan. However, the scope of work can be on hold for a year.
“We have concerns about that duration. A year is a long time if there’s urgency,” McAndrew said.
The county could adopt a limited scope ordinance, which can be tweaked on an as-needed basis.
“This gives us flexibility in the future. If there are concerns, we can bring this back to you. The ordinance would give us a mechanism to reintroduce other provisions to tighten up areas if there was still concern,” McAndrew said. “We have talked with officials with the City of St. Petersburg. They are intending to move forward with an ordinance.”
He said City of Tampa officials also share the same intention.
Work completed to date:
- BDRS has been in a “monitoring mode” with the new bill and continues to communicate with the neighboring communities.
- On the technology side, BDRS has created a database. “We want to automate this to the greatest extent,” McAndrew said.
- BDRS sent out letters to condo associations within the database. The association members are aware of the active conversations about new regulations.
- BDRS will bring back an ordinance later this fall. “We have to work backwards from December 2024 date and don’t want to be pressed up against a 180-day period. We need to get this online as quick as possible,” McAndrew said.
Today in Unincorporated Pinellas County, there are 189 condos over 30 years old that would be subject to the Phase 1 inspection before December 2024. McAndrew said BDRS has interlocal agreements with six Pinellas communities, and there are hundreds of other condos units that could be eligible.
However, there is a lingering issue that commissioners pressed on – the financial burden placed on condo owners to foot the bill.
“Bayfront Towers just went through this process. There is about $45 million worth of repairs needed,” Commissioner Rene Flowers said. “If they [residents] don’t all chip in into the fund for the $45 million [worth of repairs], they will be evicted from the tower.”
The Bayfront Tower Board of Directors ordered an inspection after requests were made by condo owners, Flowers said.
According to documents obtained by the Tampa Bay Times, there were problems with post tension cables, the metal framing and stucco on the outside of the building, the garage concrete and the roof.
The Bayfront Tower Condominium Association Residential Inc. was not immediately available for comment.
The 250-unit, 29-story luxury tower was built in 1975. In 2014, the condo tower underwent a $10 million renovation.
Flowers encouraged the fellow commissioners to observe the condo association’s actions as it relates to billing residents.
County Administrator Barry Burton and McAndrew said the current statute does require condo association to notify prospective buyers and unit owners of the potential costs associated with funding infrastructure improvements.