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Saving For A Rainy Day: How Structural Integrity Reserve Studies Can Protect Condominium Owners

8777 Collins Ave. in Surfside, Florida, captured in January 2021.

In 2021, the east building of the Champlain Towers in Surfside, Florida, collapsed due to excessive deterioration that was left in disrepair for many years, claiming the lives of nearly 100 people.

This preventable disaster spurred Florida lawmakers to enact the so-called Surfside Bill, requiring condominium associations across the state to conduct a structural integrity reserve study every 10 years for each building in the association that is three stories or taller. 

As of June 2023, 11 states across the country have local laws and regulations that require reserve studies for condominium associations. Florida, however, is receiving attention for its newly enacted statewide law after the Surfside condo tragedy.

This new law may leave some Floridian condo associations unsure of how to comply. That is where SOCOTEC, an architectural, engineering and advisory consulting firm, can step in and assist clients with optimizing the integrity and sustainability of their buildings.

“After the tragic event that happened in Surfside nearly two years ago, legislators are recognizing that people live in these condominiums and a lot goes into maintaining these large structures, especially in a saltwater environment,” said Casey Ward, principal and regional director of SOCOTEC's Southeast Division. “There's key components that associations have to start reserving for so this doesn’t happen again, including waterproofing, roof repairs/replacement and more.”

Ward said that the other structural features included in the new Florida statute include primary structural members, fireproofing, windows, exterior doors, plumbing and electrical systems. 

These structural integrity reserve studies must also be conducted by a licensed engineer or architect in the state of Florida. Validating not only the current conditions of a building but also the structure’s remaining useful life, plus accurately anticipating the replacement cost of each asset, is of utmost importance.

Experts can provide a thorough understanding and quantitative assessment as to what the replacement values of the nine items listed in the statute are, ultimately eliminating the need for large special assessments, SOCOTEC Director Michael York said.

“Structural integrity reserve studies play a major role in the building's long-term sustainability,” York said. “It allows owners to put reserved funds to the side so that when their roof has to be replaced in 15 to 20 years, they're properly funded instead of trying to push it off while allowing additional damage to the building to occur.”

The need for structural integrity reserve studies is gaining traction in Florida as more associations are being forced to evaluate the funding available in their reserves. Since Florida is the No. 1 state for secondary residences and others of fixed-income retirement, there may be an unknown financial burden placed on condo associations, York said.

“Our firm is specifically involved in the association world, and we’re noticing that there's a concern among associations where they don’t know if they’re getting a proper evaluation, whether it's for the milestone inspection or the reserve funding,” York said. 

While some associations may be slower to undertake inspections because they are afraid of not knowing who they can trust to give them an accurate evaluation, others are grabbing the bull by the horns and getting inspections done, evaluating their reserves and leaving time for strategic discussion. 

Ward said that SOCOTEC has extensive experience in partnering with associations across the state on such matters and can provide realistic budgets and timelines to associations that may need help navigating how to take care of their buildings.

“We’re a true partner of the association, meaning that our goal isn't just to hand them a report and wave goodbye and leave them to fend for themselves,” Ward said. “Our team is very good at articulating what the report means, why certain things are in there and what time frame they need to be worked out in. Our partnership is a long-term relationship with associations through inspections and capital planning.”

This article was produced in collaboration between SOCOTEC and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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