ORLANDO, Fla. — This week, 9 Investigates explained how in the wake of the Surfside condo collapse in South Florida, just about every city and county along the Atlantic coast is taking an inventory of its buildings, especially older structures.
Some leaders across the state and here in Central Florida have called for the state legislature to mandate more stringent inspections and re-certifications of residential towers.
But Channel 9 investigative reporter Christopher Heath learned Florida’s legislature already attempted to address structural concerns in aging high-rise towers along the coastline in 2008. Florida lawmakers mandated routine inspections for these towers and repair funds to ensure needed fixes would be financed.
Just one problem: In 2010, exactly two years after the law requiring the inspections was passed, legislators in the state House and Senate repealed the law.
Of course, most condominium buyers know living near the ocean comes at a steep cost. Not only is the land expensive, but the saltwater and salt air eat away at the metal holding these buildings in place.
Sooner or later, major repairs will be needed, like those called for before the Champlain Towers South partial collapse on June 24 in Surfside. As of Friday, the death toll there stood at 78 with another 62 individuals still missing.
In 2008, Florida passed a law requiring condos like Champlain Towers South to get what is known as a “reserve study.”
Basically, the state’s condos would get inspected every five years, with an engineer or architect producing a report detailing how much the condo was going to need for future big-ticket repairs.
“So what does common sense tell you?” asked former Republican state representative Julio Robaina. “Put it into a fund slowly.”
Robaina wrote the 2008 law after speaking with thousands of condo owners across the state.
“So they calculate: The roof has five more years. The structure is going to need to be looked at in the next two years. The parking lot, full of pot-holes and water accumulating, has another year of life expectancy,” Robaina told 9 Investigates.
But just two years after Robaina wrote the law, term limits forced him out of office. As soon as he was gone from Tallahassee, the same state legislature, under pressure from real estate lobbyists, repealed his law.
The bipartisan repeal was unanimous in the Senate and nearly unanimous in the House, except for three “no” votes.
Former state representative, Dwight Bullard, a Democrat, was one of those three.
“We should have kept those protections in place, those regulations in place,” Bullard told Heath. “Because at the end of the day they were safety mechanisms.”
Bullard noted that the law’s repeal was crammed into a much larger bill dealing with a host of other cost-cutting issues during the Great Recession. But he maintains cost savings should not have been the motivating factor in this case.
“I don’t think you should risk safety as a means of saving upfront money,” Bullard explained.
In Surfside, before the partial collapse of Champlain Towers South, the condo needed more than $16 million dollars in repairs, but had less than $800,000 in reserve.
It was a disparity that didn’t have to exist.
“We had a vision back then that the residents of Florida told us to take care of this back in the early 2000s,” Robaina said. “Politics removed it. Here goes all the politicians because it’s an embarrassment. It could have been prevented. Let’s be honest that this kind of thing happened, and it could have been prevented.”