by William D. Cook & Bruce Bromley / Published January 2016
Common experience regarding the 40-year safety inspection program is typically one of procrastination by the condominium associations or owners. This procrastination is linked to a fear of the unknown or a fear of dealing with the structural and electrical elements of the building and the related costs. It is important that owners and board members who reside in Broward and Dade Counties become knowledgeable and discuss the requirements for the 40-year program.
The chief purpose of the 40-year inspection program is ultimately the safety for residents and guests of that particular building. The Broward County Board of Rules and Appeals (BORA) has issued this safety program modeled after the Miami-Dade County safety program. The Broward program was created in 2005, while Miami-Dade’s program was established in the mid-1970s. To our knowledge, no other counties have instituted this type of program in the state of Florida.
By Code, the County or City Building Departments will issue a letter sometime after 40 years, which is calculated from the original date of the CO (certificate of occupancy). For example, if your building or condominium was issued a CO in the summer of 1975, the owner or association should have received a letter mid-2015, or sometime shortly after.
Once the 40-Year Building Safety Inspection is “passed,” inspections are required every 10 years thereafter. The buildings that are exempt from this program are: Residential 1 and 2 family dwellings, schools under the Broward County School Board, government buildings, buildings built on the county Indian Reservations, and buildings under 3,500 square feet in size.
All of the remaining buildings—commercial, office, warehouse, etc.—will one day be issued a letter that will require the owner or association to provide this safety report pertaining to the electrical and structural elements of the property.
The greater purpose of the 40 year safety program, as outlined by BORA, is to avoid building failures and provide overall preparedness for hurricanes. Examples of safety issues could be a chunk of concrete falling from the upper section of a building damaging vehicles (or worse), portions of damaged or rotting wood from roof trusses, or rotting wood that leads to collapse of a portion of a deck.
In June of each year, BORA sends a list of buildings requiring a safety inspection to the City or County Building Departments. The Building Departments then issue the letter to the specific address. Upon receipt of the notification letter, the 90 day clock begins. The building owners or managers for the associations must start interviewing architects or engineers (structural engineers and electrical engineers) to gather price quotes for the survey and the 40-year report.
Within this same 90-day period, the professional(s) selected must provide a survey of the property and complete a standardized inspection report form provided by the Building Department. The inspection report must be signed and sealed by the professional and submitted, by a representative of the association or building, along with the required fee, to the specific Building Department. The front cover sheet has two “check” boxes, one of which must be checked off. The Building Official will take note of which of the two boxes on the front cover of the inspection report are checked. The upper check box indicates that no repairs are required. The lower check box indicates that repairs are required, as depicted in the report. If the lower box is checked, the owner has 180 days from the date of the building inspection report, in which to correct the structural and electrical deficiencies and damages that pose a threat to life safety.
Any association or owner knows that without ongoing, regular maintenance, the lower box, which indicates “repairs are required,” will be checked off. Regular maintenance requires a proactive association, manager, and/or owner. This is the dilemma between being proactive or procrastinating. The proactive association or board budgets for this event, as it is a safety event.
Owners regularly ask, “Will this program require that the association or the individual owners bring the structural or electrical elements up to the standards of the present building code?” People will point to the windows or the sliding glass doors, with noticeable concern in their voice, and ask if the windows will now have to meet the impact requirements. The answer is no, the emphasis of this program is for life-safety issues, not to determine if the building fully complies with the latest edition of the Florida Building Code.
William D. Cook & Bruce Bromley, Owners
Bromley Cook Engineering
William D. Cook, P.E., SECB & Bruce Bromley, CSI-CDT, LEED GA, are owners of Bromley Cook Engineering, a structural engineering firm. They have provided more than 30 years of structural engineering services to Florida and the Islands. Some of the services Bromley Cook offers are glass and glazing, concrete restoration, renovation of pool and recreation decks, and 40 year inspections among other services. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, call (954) 772-4624, or visit www.bromleycook.com.
The building is 40 years old, the codes have changed significantly in that time, and it would be next to impossible for a 40-year old building to comply with the latest codes. The survey for the 40-year report requires quite a number of photographs. As a consultant providing this service, the photographs provide and memorialize the existing story of the building and where that building stands in the way of necessary repairs and renovations. It is our understanding that this report is subject to public access, and to the insurance industry, since it is filed in the Building Department records. However, the report should only point to the deficiencies and any repairs required to adequately satisfy the safety requirements, set forth by BORA, for the structural and electrical elements of that building.
The structural categories within the standardized form of the 40-year report pertain to the walls, floors, and roof systems. Stemming from these items are additional categories, such as steel framing systems, concrete framing systems, or wood framing systems. Questions on the form for each of these large categories are a request for information for “cracks,” “spalling,” “rebar corrosion,” and descriptions of damages for each. There are categories for information on windows, doors, sliding glass doors, ceilings, stucco, finishes, etc. As professionals filing this report, the need to identify damages due to safety concerns is important and requires experience and expertise.
These are just the items for the structural elements; there is a separate form required for the electrical elements. For a large, multi-story building, with hundreds of concrete balconies and numerous eyebrows, there is no need to access all the units. By accessing a percentage of units, reviewing a history of previous repairs to the building, and having experience with the various elements of a building (concrete, windows, roofs, stucco, paint projects), an experienced professional can have a good indication of the required repairs. If the repairs necessary are minor or nominal in scope, the professional will be able to provide the necessary details, drawings, or specifications for a contractor to use to submit for a permit. If the repairs are large, such as significant concrete spalls, or the existing railings are in poor condition, the professional should provide a full survey of the affected element to provide a complete scope of work to the association or the owner.
Items such as water damage or water intrusion due to large portions of delaminated stucco or poor sealant around windows or sliding glass doors will not always be readily visible or noted in the report. It is important to communicate with the manager, maintenance personnel, or various owners, to get a clear picture of any damages that they may have observed. Knowledge of these conditions can have profound implications for the costs of the visible repairs and potential related or hidden repairs that may be encountered during a repair project.
There are owners or board members, living or working in condominium or building structures, who still believe that balconies will not collapse or that the costs for safety renovations are frivolous and unnecessary. To eliminate the “doubters,” the representatives from the Board of Rules and Appeals have submitted photographs that illustrate structural failures along Hollywood Beach and Lauderdale-By-The-Sea. Life safety is important and this safety program, or decree, is worthwhile, necessary, and should spur people to maintain their buildings both structurally and electrically.
In summary, for both safety and financial objectives, it makes sense to maintain the building and the elements of the building and not delay or procrastinate. It is very important to prioritize the repairs, budget for the work, and then prepare a comprehensive schedule or time line.