In light of the catastrophic, deadly condo building collapse in Surfside, Florida last month, boards and residents in multifamily buildings across the country are taking a hard look at how their own properties measure up to the structural maintenance and safety requirements imposed by states and municipalities. From conducting regular, competent physical plant inspections to making needed repairs in a timely fashion, these ordinances are in place to ensure the safety and integrity of buildings and their components over their useful lives. CooperatorNews spoke with attorneys in several markets to get a better sense of how requirements vary across the country, and how residents and administrators can do their part to keep their own buildings safe.
John Prisco, an attorney and shareholder at Stark & Stark in Lawrenceville, New Jersey explains that in New Jersey there is a statute known as The Hotel and Multiple Dwelling Act which is separate from the New Jersey Condominium Act. According to him, “That Hotel and Multiple Dwelling Act does require specific inspections and includes co-ops and condominiums. Inspections are required every five years, starting from completion of construction and issuance of a certificate of occupancy, and then every five years thereafter. Generally, the entity performing the inspections is monitored under the Commissioner of Community Affairs. Inspections and inspectors can be delegated down to the municipal level. Local inspectors must comply with the New Jersey State Department of Community Affairs requirements.”
Prisco explains that there is a tiered penalty scheme that can become very expensive if violations are not rectified. If there’s a safety violation, the owner must inform the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) that it’s been corrected. After corrections are made, the DCA will reinspect. If the building owner - be that a landlord or a condo or co-op board - fails to rectify an imminent life safety issue, they could be looking at a $5,000 per-day fine. If there is a notice of unsafe structure, the building must be vacated.
While this is by no means an exhaustive account of the rules and regulations around exterior and interior building inspections, one thing is clear: in the absence of a uniform, nationwide standard, it’s incumbent on boards and managers to stay on top of inspection cycles and maintenance of their properties. The investigation into the collapse of the Surfside condo is ongoing and will likely take years to complete. Understanding its causes, and any allocation of responsibility for the disaster, may bring some closure to those who lost their homes and loved ones - but in the meantime, boards, managers, and residents alike must educate themselves and be proactive when it comes to keeping their own properties safe and structurally sound.
“In New York State, condominiums are governed by Article 9-b of the Real Property Act,” says Mark Hakim, an attorney specializing in co-op and condominium law with the firm of Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg & Atlas. “The Act provides a framework for the formation, operation, and management of condominiums in New York. It is intended to provide the basis for which the offering plan is prepared, the requisite disclosures made, and the building is governed, used and managed. It is not intended to micromanage the day-to-day operations of any building. It’s left up to the boards of each building to determine the building’s needs and make repairs and replacements consistent with those needs, as well as enact budget and policy subject to the specific language of its governing documents. The Act is not intended to, nor does it contain, any requirements or language mandating when and what types of inspections, repairs or replacement are to be made to buildings, including the frequency thereof. Rather, that is left to local regulating authorities to enact.”