Remembering Surfside: A Reset is in Order
July 6, 2023 – This post revisits an article originally published in the Washington Post by Professor Evan McKenzie on July 2, 2021. Professor McKenzie is the author of two books on common-interest developments (CIDs), and one of the country’s most vocal critics of privatized residential developments.
In the aftermath of the June 24, 2021 collapse of the Champlain Tower South Condominium the Washington Post published the article below by Professor Evan McKenzie:
On July 2, 2021, only nine days after the tragic building failure, McKenzie writes:
“…the disaster exemplifies a bigger problem, one that will still loom once we have answers about what went wrong in Surfside: The untrained, unpaid and unsupervised volunteer directors of the nation’s more than 350,000 condo and homeowners’ associations, armed with limited financial resources, are expected to deal with the unprecedented infrastructure challenges that climate change poses to their communities. And there is no reason to believe that they are up to that task.”
Two years after the collapse we know a lot more than we did on July 2, 2021. Consider the following with respect to the ill-fated condominium:
- There were reports dating back to 1996 of extensive water damage and accelerated corrosion in the elevated pool deck.
- A Structural Field Survey Report was delivered to the Board of Directors of Champlain Tower South on 10/8/2018.
- The October 2018 report estimated the cost of repairs identified in the report at $16.15M
- A separate 2018 inspection of the electrical, mechanical, plumbing, fire alarm and fire sprinkler systems estimated the cost of repairs for those systems at $1M.
- According to Scott Stewart, the former manager of the Champlain Tower South Condominium, the Association’s replacement reserves as of the date of the collapse totaled in the neighborhood of $1.6M.
- The “top building official” for the city of Surfside, FL had assured residents of the Champlain Towers South condominium that it was in “very good shape,” two years before the 12-story building collapsed, according to a NPR report written by Vanessa Romo on 6/29/2021.
As we know from McKenzie’s article, the Board of Directors had levied a special assessment of $15M to pay for the repairs only shortly before the collapse. The special assessment, which averaged $110, 000 per unit had been approved at the time of the collapse with payment set to begin only days after the tragedy.
Fast-forward two years, 98 human lives lost and $1B settlement as a result of a class-action lawsuit, the estimated structural repair bill of $16.1M and another $1M for electrical, mechanical and plumbing repairs seems like a small price to pay.
As climate change rages forward, the aging condominium inventory in the U.S., Canada and most of the western world will continue to deteriorate. High-rise buildings containing housing units, or so-called “vertical communities,” only add to this entangled web of complex economic and social problems, as does the more recent issue of hyperinflation, the likes of which Americans have not seen since the day the doomed Champlain Tower South first opened its doors more than 40 years ago.
It remains to be seen if Professor McKenzie’s warning that untrained, unpaid and unsupervised volunteer boards of directors, armed with limited financial resources will be successful in their attempts to deal with the unprecedented infrastructure challenges that climate change poses to their communities. What is not in question is that the economic impact on the owners of these buildings, the surrounding populations and society at-large is going to be staggering, even under the best of circumstances.
- Surfside Champlain Towers South Condominium Collapse and Condition Assessment of Nearby Aging High-Rise Buildings from a Corrosion Engineering Perspective Mehrooz (Matergenics, Inc.- 8/18/2021)
- Structural Field Survey Report MC Job#18217 (Morabito Consultants, Inc. – 8/8/2018)
- Champlain Tower South Condominium 877 Collins Avenue, Surfside, FL (Thomas E. Henz, PE, Inc. – 10/5/2018)
- Champlain Towers South Community Manager Speaks: Part 2 (Dave Rauch, ProTec Building Services – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xio3wHbeDyQ)
- Official Who Said Champlain Towers Was Sound Is On A Leave Of Absence (https://www.npr.org/sections/live-updates-miami-area-condo-collapse/2021/06/29/1011462540/ross-prieto-rosendo-leave-doral-surfside-condo-collapse-inspector)