On May 26, 2022, a significant legislative step was taken to enhance the safety of Florida’s buildings and protect public welfare. As a direct response to the devastating Champlain Towers Building collapse in Surfside in June 2021, Florida took swift action, and Governor Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill SB 4-D into law, implementing measures to enhance building safety. This bill introduced mandatory milestone inspections for aging buildings. These inspections are designed to ensure the structural integrity of buildings, prevent potential disasters, and create a safer built environment. Understanding the details of milestone inspections, their purpose, implications, and the changes they bring to the state’s building safety landscape is crucial. Let’s get started!
Understanding Milestone Inspections
A milestone inspection involves a thorough assessment of a building’s structural integrity, focusing on critical elements such as load-bearing walls and other structural components that provide stability and support to the structure. The primary goal is to identify any evidence of substantial structural deterioration, which refers to significant structural distress negatively impacting a building’s overall structural condition and stability. However, it’s important to note that surface imperfections such as cracks and minor deformations are not considered unless they indicate substantial structural deterioration.
Scope of Requirement
The milestone inspection requirement applies to all condominiums and cooperative buildings in Florida with three or more stories. The timing of these inspections is determined by the building’s age based on the date of the certificate of occupancy.
- Buildings that are 30 years of age must undergo a milestone inspection with subsequent inspections every ten years.
- Buildings that are 3 miles from the coast must undergo a milestone inspection at 25 years of age, with subsequent inspections every ten years.
If a building’s certificate of occupancy was issued on or before July 1, 1992, the initial milestone inspection must be conducted by December 31, 2024.
The Role of Licensed Professionals
Only a licensed Professional Engineer or Architect authorized to practice in Florida can perform milestone inspections. These professionals are responsible for assessing the building’s structural condition and determining the need for any maintenance, repairs, or replacements of structural components.
Phases of Inspection
Milestone inspections are conducted in two phases:
A visual examination of the building’s major structural components is conducted to identify signs of substantial structural deterioration. This phase aims to provide a qualitative assessment of the building’s overall structural condition. Substantial structural deterioration refers to severe structural distress negatively impacting the building’s condition and integrity, excluding surface imperfections. If no indications of substantial structural deterioration are discovered, a phase two inspection is unnecessary.
Should phase one uncover substantial structural deterioration, a phase two milestone inspection becomes necessary. This phase involves a more in-depth assessment, potentially including destructive testing at the inspector’s discretion. The objective is to thoroughly evaluate areas of structural distress, ensuring the building’s structural soundness and safety. Locations for testing are selected with careful consideration of minimal disruption and ease of repair.
Post-Inspection Obligations and Responsibilities
Following the milestone inspection, the engineer or architect completes an inspection report and submits a sealed copy to the condo association. The report includes material findings, recommendations, a description of the inspection process, identification of substantial structural deterioration, repair suggestions, identification of unsafe conditions, and more. The report must be signed and sealed by the licensed engineer or architect who conducted the inspection. Additionally, a summarized version of the findings and recommendations is presented. Both the full report and the summary must be provided to the local building authority. Condo associations must disseminate the inspector’s summary to every unit owner and display a copy prominently on the property. Associations with websites are mandated to upload the full report and summary for public access.
Some Key Points to Consider
- Local enforcement agencies are authorized to modify inspection schedules based on local circumstances, including environmental factors like proximity to salt water. This ensures that buildings in different areas are subject to appropriate inspection timelines.
- Condominium or cooperative associations are responsible for arranging milestone inspections and ensuring compliance. The associations are also responsible for bearing the costs of inspections related to the portions of the building they maintain.
- Local enforcement agencies provide written notices of required milestone inspections. The inspection reports, along with summaries of findings and recommendations, are submitted to associations, building owners, and local authorities.
- The Florida Building Commission is tasked with adopting rules to implement this legislation, including standardized forms, testing protocols, and maintenance requirements. Additionally, the commission is expected to provide recommendations for comprehensive structural and life safety standards for various building types.
Adapting to Change and Ensuring Compliance
Structural engineers and architects in Florida are experiencing a surge in demand for their expertise due to the influx of milestone inspections. As countless buildings approach their 25 and 30-year deadlines, urgency and abundance of work have become dominant factors. These professionals are not only managing increased workloads but also adapting their skill sets to incorporate the new inspection requirements effectively. Staying updated with evolving legislation and ensuring compliance is paramount for professionals and building owners to create a safer built environment collectively.
Building a Safer Future
The tragic events in Surfside were a brutal wake-up call that reminded us all of the importance of prioritizing building safety. The introduction of milestone inspections through Senate Bill SB 4-D signifies Florida’s commitment to enhancing building safety and safeguarding public well-being. As new developments in building safety legislation emerge, it becomes increasingly important to stay informed and compliant with changing requirements. As Florida’s landscape continues to evolve, the collaboration between structural professionals, building owners, and authorities will ensure a resilient and secure future for the state’s built environment.