More Surfside disasters? Lack of Florida condo oversight spells trouble

The deadly Surfside collapse is casting a spotlight on how Florida’s condominiums are built and regulated.

The 40-year-old Champlain Towers South in Miami-Dade County killed 98 people when the 12-story building unexpectedly crumbled on June 24.

A USA Today Network analysis of property records in the coastal communities of Miami Beach, Fort Myers Beach, Daytona Beach and Palm Beach show more than a thousand condos three stories or taller close to the water constructed in 1981 or earlier. There are likely many more across the state. Some date back to the early 1960s. With so many aging oceanfront condos, could a collapse happen again?

A network examination of the way high-rise condos are regulated and maintained in Florida shows why some experts believe the system was designed to fail.

And human nature plays a part: Many condo boards defer repairs because of the costs. Too much economizing could be deadly. 

So far, there have only been two high-rise condo collapses in Florida to date. In addition to the Surfside tragedy, a five-story structure under construction in Cocoa Beach suddenly toppled in 1981, killing 11 workers.

But is it realistic to think only a few condos are in danger?

“Buildings in Florida in general are only designed to have a shelf life of 40 to 50 years,” said Ariel Neris, a structural engineer in Seminole County.

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