Those of us without engineering degrees tend to take the buildings in which we live and work for granted. We simply assume that if we go indoors, the ceiling isn't going to suddenly collapse. Of course, buildings can remain upright and structurally sound with proper maintenance and upkeep. Maintaining a building sounds like common sense, but inevitably some boards avoid it.
After all, maintenance work can often be expensive and intrusive. Fortunately, we have building and safety codes to encourage regular maintenance—and protect the irresponsible and naïve from themselves. Since we're not all engineers, boards and managers need to rely on inspections and consultations to make sure their community isn't the site of an avoidable tragedy.
Codes vs. Responsibility
Florida's building codes lay out some pretty strict construction requirements for new buildings to make sure they're safe, especially in hurricane-prone areas. But the vast majority of Florida HOAs do not have any specific inspection requirements. The onus to keep up with building codes past initial construction is left almost entirely to the board and unit owners. “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.