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Earlier this year in late June, a 12-storey oceanfront condominium in Florida collapsed in the early hours of the morning, leading to the loss of 98 lives.

At the time, the Miami condo collapse appeared inexplicable and sudden, but it has since been revealed that a swathe of building maintenance issues, some of which were flagged by concerned residents long before the tragedy, were ultimately ignored.

The community of Surfside, where the tower once stood, has been left reeling in the aftermath, with residents of neighbouring condominiums in an area famed for its prime beachfront real estate fearing that they too were in a place unsafe for habitation.

The rarity of an unplanned building collapse like this shocked the world, and one industry found itself firmly fixed in the spotlight.

Building Maintenance and Inspections

Amidst the rush to assess similar condo developments in the area, many property maintenance firms noted structural defects, not unlike those found at Champlain Towers South, and they quickly worked to address the flaws. 

Federal investigators worked to pinpoint the cause of the collapse, with a trail of documents highlighting the 136-unit condo building’s substantial structural damage long overdue for repairs. 

As yet, no conclusive faults have been identified, but industry experts and engineers have indicated that the aforementioned structural damage and severely delayed repairs contributed to the overall deterioration over four decades, ultimately leading to the eventual collapse.

The Early Warning Signs 

As early as 1996, structural damage to the pool deck and the ceiling of the underground garage were brought to the attention of building management. The local contractor conducted a report, noting that the two areas of concern needed structural attention to the concrete.

This work was later completed, though the structural defects somehow reared up again not too long after.

Speaking to ABC News, Peter Dyga, the president and CEO of Associated Builders & Contractors, Florida East Coast Chapter, said: “The most common problems are weather intrusions. The way you combat that is with good quality solid weatherproofing and paint, and those repairs need to be identified when they happen and repaired in order to maintain the strength and integrity of the building.”

After another building collapsed in 1974, in the wider Miami area, lawmakers in the county pushed through regulations for the mandatory inspection of commercial and residential buildings 40 years after construction.

Unfortunately for Champlain Towers, the building was going through the recertification process when the tragedy at the South tower took place.

A structural engineering firm, Morabito Consultants, were hired by the condo’s building managers in 2018 to conduct the inspection. Among other things, the firm reported structural damage to the pool deck, yet again, this time chalked up as inadequate waterproofing. It was claimed that the repairs would cost in excess of $9 million.

The repairs were never carried out.

Peter Dyga, speaking to ABC News, said: “When things happen related to building construction, builders are generally the scapegoats and it may be the quality of the building. On the other end of the problem is with a building. One that is most common that we see is failing to maintain.”

Following the collapse, building inspectors from the building department of Miami-Dade County, inspected over 500 buildings that were either nearing or over the 40-year recertification, with buildings constructed just over 30 years ago notified a decade in advance of that looming deadline.

What can we learn from this?

By its very nature, the process of conducting detailed building inspections and issuing maintenance reports is paper-based and slow, and is still relatively analogue, all things considered. 

Despite some professionals in the industry forging ahead with the use of new technologies and property inspection software, others remain locked into traditional methods. As suggested by ABC News and other international outlets, among other things slow communication and outdated methods of evidence gathering may have factored into the collapse.

We’ve seen technology revolutionize other industries, so it stands to reason that the whole process needs an overhaul – a seamless, intuitive and connected process that brings contractors, managers and other stakeholders together to assess and report in real-time. 

Through the use of building inspection software, communal areas, units and multi-family building inspections can be assessed quickly, conveniently, and accurately, allowing for more time to be spent communicating clearly with contractors, internal teams, or cross-organisationally.

Tragedies like that of Champlain Towers stand as a stark reminder to the industry, an industry that now must endeavour to stay ahead of the curve and appreciate the value that new technologies in the inspection process can bring about. 

Putting building maintenance and inspection software into practice will greatly benefit real estate professionals, leading to a significant boost to maintenance and reporting processes, while at the same time safeguarding property owners and, above all else, tenants.

To see how Property Inspect can benefit your business, book a demo today.