Engineers, Architects, and Contractors working in South Florida will never forget August 5, 1974. The date forever changed the way buildings are constructed and maintained in South Florida.
At 10:24 AM that Monday, the roof of a Federal office building housing the Miami field office for the United States Drug Enforcement Administration suddenly collapsed, killing seven occupants and injuring fifteen. A forensic evaluation of the failure initially stated an obvious theory: excess cars parked on the roof. Further investigations revealed a far less obvious and more challenging cause: degradation of the supporting steel caused by parking lot resurfacing and chemical attack by salt in the materials. More specifically, the investigating engineers determined that local materials, specifically salt in local aggregates used for concrete, can corrode reinforcing steel when subjected to local humid and salty conditions.
This discovery was a revelation that led to two notable outcomes in South Florida:
- A renewed focus on the fact that buildings grow old much like people, and they require regular maintenance to maintain their safe operation and occupancy.
- The creation of Miami-Dade County’s 40-Year Recertification Program.
Immediately following the investigation into the DEA building collapse, Miami-Dade implemented a 40/50-Year Recertification Program to protect its constituents. In 2005, Broward County followed their lead, requiring similar safety measures with its version of the program. Put simply, the programs acknowledge the need for aging structures to undergo regular evaluation and maintenance. The purpose is to ensure safe use and occupancy. Much like regular health screenings for people, once a building turns 40 years old, it goes through regular, formal recertification of structural and electrical components. Every ten years thereafter, the recertification process repeats, with the goal being to ensure the continued safe use, operation, and occupancy of the structure.
Nearly 50 years after the DEA building collapse, another, more devasting tragedy occurred: the Surfside Condo Collapse in June of 2021. Is there a disconnect between the intent of the program and its practical implications in South Florida? This event placed a renewed focus on building maintenance, and more specifically, how buildings self-monitor in the absence of any type of formal recertification program. While some buildings wait to see how their local requirements may change, others decided to take immediate action.
What Is The 40/50-Year Recertification Program?
The 40/50-Year Recertification program’s intention is to create a uniform evaluation of key structural, electrical, and life-safety components within buildings. The program’s goal is to ensure the continued safe use and occupancy of structural and electrical systems within commercial buildings and residential buildings within certain limitations.
Both Miami-Dade County and Broward County ordinances require that certain commercial buildings, condominiums, and apartment complexes be inspected and recertified by a licensed Professional Engineer or Registered Architect when a building reaches 40 years of age, and at 10-year intervals thereafter. Failure to obtain recertification could result in the loss of the certificate of occupancy for the building. The difference between Miami-Dade and Broward lies with a building’s size.
In Miami-Dade County, the ordinance does not apply to single-family and duplex residences or to minor buildings less than 2,000 square feet and occupancy of fewer than ten persons (as defined by the Florida Building Code.) Minimum inspection standards are found here.
The Broward County ordinance does not apply to single-family and duplex residences or to minor buildings of 3,500 square feet and less.
In Florida particularly, the recertification process is a vital part of a building’s maintenance program. Buildings located near the ocean, on marshland, and susceptible to rain, wind, and severe storms hold unique concerns. Things like oxidation, corrosion, cracks, rust, mold, and chloride attack are unique regional concerns that require enhanced attention over other buildings in more moderate climates. Please see here for more information.
The recertification process is straightforward and follows the standard process below. Once your building passes inspection and the requisite paperwork is filed with the appropriate department, you receive recertification. Keep in mind, even if your building is not currently inhabited or open to the public, you will have to seek recertification.
Why Get Recertified?
First and foremost, the 40/50-year recertification process is important for residents’ safety. However, the importance of recertification doesn’t stop there. Recertification can help property owners in legal matters. Long-term, it can help save money by identifying problems in the early stages of distress. Money can be saved in building repair costs alone following regularly scheduled maintenance, early detection, and aggressive prevention techniques. For an in-depth look at the reasons you should have an inspection and get recertified, click here.
Now, let’s break down recertification step-by-step, so you know what to expect and how to navigate your building through the process.
Getting Recertified Today: The Process
How does the 40/50-Year Recertification program work?
The recertification program follows a few straightforward steps.
- Receive Notice: When a building reaches its 40-year threshold, the Building Department sends a notice to the building’s owner, office, association, or property manager. This is called a “Notice of Required Recertification of 40-Year-Old Building(s).” This provides formal notice to the building of the recertification requirement and initiates the process.
- Hire a Professional: The building owner retains a Professional Engineer or Registered Architect to complete a recertification inspection. The property provides the engineer with the structural, architectural, and electrical drawings of the building, and the building schedules an inspection.
- Perform Investigation: The engineer performs a visual assessment of “visible signs of distress.” The length of the investigation varies and can be as short as one to two weeks for small to medium-sized buildings, or greater than a month for larger properties. The Engineer or Architect will look at many different building elements, both structural and electrical. The Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) mandates specific requirements for the evaluation, from the foundation to electrical panels, and many things in between. The investigation often includes the inspection of a representative portion of the building units.
- Generate Report: After the visual inspection is complete, the Engineer will author a report detailing their observations from their time at your property. The purpose of this report is to provide an overview of the building’s perceived health and, where appropriate, identify areas that require repairs or enhanced maintenance. This report is then sent to the AHJ, either by the property owner or Engineer/Architect, along with the filing fee.
- Get Recertified: If there are no visible safety, structural, or electrical issues, the building will pass and be recertified for 10 more years.
- Fix Problems: If there are deficiencies that must be addressed, the property owner will typically have 180 days to perform the necessary repairs. It is possible that the Building Department may grant extensions if repairs are extensive, but the property owner will have to show progress in this case and demonstrate the need for additional time. Sometimes, the engineer who performed the investigation would also be able to provide construction quality management if the owner/board would like.
- Repeat Investigation: When the necessary repairs are completed, the engineer will perform another investigation. Upon resolution of any remaining issues, the building can be recertified.
If for any reason a property fails to complete the mandated recertification or ignores the repairs that were deemed necessary, fines and further intervention from the AHJ can ensue. This can lead to mandatory vacating of the premises or, in extreme cases, the building department issuing orders to demolish portions of the building.
The Surfside Condo Collapse has brought recertification to the forefront in Florida, and our team and its industry partners look to provide insight and education to those that are concerned about their building. We may see an increase in recertification requirements across Florida; however, there is currently no timeline for an expansion of the South Florida programs. This series aims to provide the audience with resources and processes similar to the Recertification Programs that could greatly benefit buildings throughout all of Florida.
Additional recommendations for associations and buildings to ensure their properties are properly maintained include:
- Scheduling regular maintenance from trade professionals
- Hiring a professional engineer to conduct a Property Condition Assessment (PCA) or Limited Building Evaluation for Visible Signs of Distress in accordance with ASTM 2018-15 – Standard Guide for Property Condition Assessments: Baseline Property Condition Assessment Process and ASCE – 11 – Guideline for Structural Condition Assessment of Existing Buildings
- Budgeting for and scheduling out your own “recertification” at regular intervals where you hire a structural engineer to check your property thoroughly
- Looking out for signs that your building may need an inspection, please click here to contact m2e today.