By Rich Pollack
Highland Beach town leaders are hoping 16 condominiums that missed deadlines will soon file structural and electrical inspection reports that were mandated following the Champlain Towers condo collapse in Surfside more than two years ago.
During an August meeting, town Building Official Jeff Remas said that 16 of the town’s 53 buildings that are required to file inspection reports because they are at least 25 years old failed to do so.
Remas and Town Manager Marshall Labadie said those buildings could be cited for code violations — and possibly assessed daily fines — should they not file inspection reports in the next few weeks or ask Remas for an extension.
“We want to make sure people are paying attention and not compromising safety,” Labadie said. “They’ve got to get started.”
Only two condo buildings have completed the inspection report procedure. Five others have filed reports but been asked for more information. The reports from three others are under review.
And three buildings that are not included with the non-filers have not filed reports but have concrete restoration projects underway.
Confusion could be one reason the reports are slow in coming.
Under a state law passed last year, buildings — those 25 and older along the coast and 30 or older inland — that are more than three stories in height with four units or more must be recertified. Buildings have until Dec. 31, 2024, to complete the process.
But the law also requires that buildings have a structural engineer complete a visual inspection within 180 days of notification by a local government that a report is required.
As a result of that law, the town had to change an earlier ordinance that gave buildings 365 days from notification to file an inspection report.
Complicating matters is a requirement by the town that buildings also file an electrical inspection report within 180 days of notification.
Since early last year, the town has been sending notices to two or three condo associations each month, letting them know when the inspection report needs to be filed. Nine buildings will be notified in the future.
“This has been phased in very carefully,” Remas said, adding that the town wants to make sure that there is time to review all the reports.
The town also wants to make sure building associations have all the time needed to get reports done. As the state deadline gets closer, finding an available inspector could be challenging since the law applies to thousands of buildings across Florida.
“Our concern is that people are going to find themselves in a crunch and they won’t be able to make the state deadline,” Labadie said.
Remas said that buildings have been given notice of the deadlines with certified letters and with hand-delivered notifications. An additional letter, giving buildings that missed the deadline 30 days to comply or ask for an extension, went out in August.
He said the town has also begun calling building managers, following a recommendation by Vice Mayor David Stern, who is also president of the board of the Highlands Place condominium.
Stern, whose building has a future deadline, said he believes the situation may not be as challenging as it appears.
“It’s hard to believe there are so many not in compliance,” he said. “It’s possible that some buildings are compliant, just not notifying the town.”
He believes that having town officials making phone calls “to find out what the facts are” should create a clearer picture.
Remas said that his next step, if buildings don’t comply or request an extension, will be to take the matter to the town’s code enforcement board, which could impose daily fines.
“No one here is trying to punish anyone, we’re just trying to get compliance,” Remas said.