Florida condo collapse could lead to new local regulations

NOW: Florida condo collapse could lead to new local regulations

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The partial collapse of a condominium building in South Florida has Milwaukee city leaders looking into how high-rise buildings here are inspected, and looking into whether building codes need to be changed.

Security footage from Surfside, Florida shows a tower collapse in seconds, but according to foundation inspector Charles Weber, this tragedy was years in the making. “It didn’t have to happen,” Weber said. 

While we don’t know the exact cause of the partial collapse, a 2018 letter to Champlain Towers condo owners from the board president outlines deteriorating concrete.

Weber speculates that failing to act on what was in front of them ultimately caused the tragedy.

“They did have plenty of inspections and warning signs that pointed out these things -- they just didn’t think they were serious,” he said.

We wanted to know how often high-rise buildings in Milwaukee are inspected.

Michael Mannan, head of code enforcement with Milwaukee’s Department of Neighborhood Services, says buildings have a fire and safety inspection every year.

“We do them on all commercial buildings, all high-rises, everything open to the public. It’s an interior inspection,” he said.

Mannan says other inspections happen periodically depending on the building. But Milwaukee Alderman Bob Bauman wonders if that level of oversight is enough.

“I was just curious what -- if anything -- we do, 20 years into a building’s life.” 

Alderman Bauman, posing questions to DNS officials in the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee on June 29, also wondered if the yearly safety inspections are good enough to detect problems within a building’s foundation.

“You’ve got trained people there, but they are not looking for structural integrity, they are looking for other things, which they may incidentally find a problem,” Bauman said. 

Charles Weber says those inspections often do lead to foundation repairs.

“A building owner downtown on Third Street... the fire department came, contacted him and took him downstairs and said hey something's going on here, the vaulted sidewalk was rotating. We put crack monitors on there and found that it was continuing to rotate,” Weber said.

Mannan says if problems are found during an inspection, his department will try to work with building owners, but will eventually force repair work to be completed.

“You don’t want to be in a position where the cost of the repair gets so expensive because of delayed maintenance,” Mannan said. 

This tragedy may serve as a warning for condominium associations across the city and across the country. The rules for building inspection and maintenance may get more strict, and may lead to higher condo association fees.

“I would expect in the next few years, next few code cycles, we get some more requirements added on once we determine what those failures were,” Mannan said. 

If you see damage in your building’s foundation, call your landlord or condo association.

If that doesn’t work, Mannan says Milwaukee DNS does respond to complaints.

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