Surfside Condo Association denies blame for collapse

Donna DiMaggio Berger or Becker Lawyers (Getty, Becker Lawyers)

In the search for a cause for the Surfside condo collapse, more details emerge on the reconstruction work needed in the building, as 159 are still missing and four are confirmed dead.

The Champlain Towers South condominium association had submitted offers for concrete restoration work, as part of the required 40-year recertification, association lawyer Donna Berger told The Real Deal. But she pushed back a lawsuit claiming the association was responsible for the collapse. The lawsuit, filed Thursday evening, seeks class action status and more than $ 5 million in damages to victims.

Before the collapse, the association hired engineer Frank Morabito of Morabito Consultants to inspect the building constructed in 1981 for recertification. His company declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation into the cause of the collapse.

Brokers say unit owners faced a $ 15 million valuation related to recertification. On average, unit owners would pay around $ 110,000, although this varies depending on their square footage.

The oceanfront portion of the 12-story South Tower collapsed around 1:30 a.m. Thursday, crushing more than 50 units in the South Champlain Towers at 8777 Collins Avenue in Surfside.

Relatives of those still missing on Friday clung to hope that survivors would be found, even as they came to terms with the grim reality of the more expected deaths. Authorities have identified one of the confirmed victims as Stacie Fang, the mother of the teenager whose rescue was filmed in dramatic footage hours after the collapse.

As first responders continued to push their way through the rubble, speculation abounded as to the cause of the collapse. Official responses are unlikely to come for some time.

The fingers point in different directions

Unit owner Manuel Drezner, who filed the first civil lawsuit, blamed the condominium association for failing to implement adequate security measures. Drezner, who was not in the building at the time, claims in the lawsuit that the association failed to ensure adequate security measures.

The lawsuit cites public comments by Ken Direktor, another lawyer for the association, that “the needs for redress had been identified” but had not been carried out, according to the complaint.

The lawyer for the Berger Association, of the Becker law firm, disputed Drezner’s claims. She said the engineer she spoke to told her it was an issue with the building’s basement, such as piles dug out during construction, which was completed over 40 years ago. years.

Roof repairs were already underway, with some speculating that the heavy machinery atop the building contributed to the collapse. Berger refuted this claim, as well as the claim that the existing cracks were to blame.

“A building does not fall because you are working on a roof or because there are 16 cracks in the stucco,” she said. “All these buildings along the coast are all demolished because of the weather. It’s like that. It is a good place to live.

The condominium’s volunteer board of directors was doing the right thing by following the list of work priorities generated by the engineer who was hired for the recertification inspection, Berger added. The roof has been prioritized due to the start of the hurricane season on June 1.

Lawyer Brad Sohn, who represents Drezner, said TRD that he and his client support the claims and believe the collapse was preventable. The trial is necessary to ensure that all records relevant to an investigation are kept, Sohn added in a press release.

Berger declined to release the engineer’s report and did not know the details of concrete issues identified by the engineer. The Town of Surfside has yet to release recertification information.

Concrete: a common problem

Concrete restoration is big business in Florida, as many buildings deal with real world issues. Typically, condos have to contend with concrete issues on balconies, stucco delamination, exposed rebar, concrete cracks and rust stains, experts say.

“You can go up and down the A1A over the ocean and you’ll see a number of these concrete restorations in a typical day,” said Paul Danforth, engineer at Universal Engineering.

Champlain Towers South was sinking about 2 millimeters per year in the 1990s, although the rate may have changed since then, according to a Florida International University study concluded last year. The northeast part of the building is what collapsed early Thursday morning.

Berger said the study “reinforces” speculation from engineers she spoke to that this was an underground problem. She asked why the CRF, a public school, did not sound the alarm after her study showed the building was sinking.

Architect Kobi Karp pointed out that the part of the building facing the ocean has fallen.

“If you take a close look at the building, you see the building failure is the northeast rectangle, but the southwest L stands on its own,” said Karp, who is not involved. “Do you wonder why this disappearance happened, while the rest of the building stood up?” “

Experts said that even during work such as concrete restoration and repair, there are likely to be issues that engineers cannot see or access visually without the use of x-ray technology.

On top of that, homeowners are not required to do major inspections until a building is 40 years old. The level of maintenance performed by a condominium varies from condo to condo and generally depends on the association.

“Generally speaking, it’s up to the owner of the building, the association to take care of it,” said Karp.

Matthew Flax of Flax & Associates, a general contractor, is one who said associations often start their recertification too late due to a lack of money. It can also be difficult, in such a dynamic real estate market, to secure skilled labor and contractors for large projects, he added.

The Champlain South Towers were built 40 years ago, “so they had just started, when they perhaps should have started the process in previous years,” speculated Flax.

The calamity called into question whether a recertification after 40 years, the minimum required in Miami-Dade County, is sufficient. Karp and other experts have said there will likely be changes to this requirement and to building code and certification requirements, depending on what forensic engineers determine to be the cause of the collapse.

“We have the opportunity to create what we did after 1992, after Hurricane Andrew where the hurricane passed through houses built on wood frames,” Karp said. “We have a responsibility to ourselves to see how we can maintain, support these structures. “

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