Miami Mayor Francis Suarez Says Surfside Tragedy Was "Preventable"

The collapse calls into question how safe Miamians are in their buildings, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said.
The collapse calls into question how safe Miamians are in their buildings, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said. Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg
In the wake of last week's condo collapse in Surfside, homeowners and city officials want to make sure nothing like it ever happens again.

Officials haven't yet declared a definitive cause for the tragedy. But in a webinar this afternoon hosted by the Brickell Homeowners Association, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said he believes it was preventable.

"What we saw [in Surfside] is an anomalous event, but one that may have been preventable," Suarez said. "When you see the deterioration of some of these buildings that seem to have gone unattended...associations are like cities. Your primary responsibilities, just like the city's primary responsibility, is to take care of our common areas. Our streets, our sidewalks. If we fail to do that, someone could get hurt. The same thing can happen in a building."

In the wake of the tragedy, some have raised questions about Miami-Dade County's 40-year building recertification process, especially after a 2018 report was found to show "major structural damage" to the Champlain Towers South building. The property, built in 1981, was due for its 40-year recertification this year.

The collapse calls into question how safe Miamians are in their buildings, Suarez said at the webinar. Internally, the city has been asking what it can do to help on a policy and supervisory level. 

"This has broad implications about the safety of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people that live in buildings and high-rises," said the mayor. "This has implications for real estate in terms of value and people feeling confident and safe."

Miami lawyer Christopher Utrera said unit owners or condo associations in new-construction buildings should have their units inspected once the ownership changes hands from the developer to the residents.

"It's expected to see some signs of minor cracks, what's called hairline cracks within those first few years," Utrera says. "If you have a qualified engineer or design professional, they can assess what's going on and address it."

The City of Miami is hand-delivering letters to 125 buildings considered to be "threshold," meaning they are over 40 years old and higher than six stories. Each building will be asked to complete an inspection with a structural engineer that has assessed at least three similar buildings.

Although there is no way to mandate the inspections, assistant director of building services Asael Marrero said the city is doing what it can to make sure building owners comply.

"We want to go above and beyond in making sure that now we have a higher threshold of review," he said. "[The letter] is raising the bar of what we need to follow in order to recertify our buildings."

David Podein, another Miami lawyer, emphasized the 40-year requirement for reassessment is the "bare minimum," and it's up to individual buildings and condo associations to ensure that proper maintenance is taken care of. Buildings begin to deteriorate the second they're built, he said, so it's the association's job to maintain common spaces — not property-management companies.

The Surfside disaster will likely lead to changes that will require associations to set aside money for routine maintenance and repairs, Podein said.

"I think, obviously, there's going to be legal changes coming out of this severe tragedy," Podein says. "But a lot of people probably are not going to want to wait."
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Alan Halaly is a former intern at Miami New Times and a rising journalism sophomore at the University of Florida. In the past, he covered historically Black neighborhoods and city and county affairs for the Independent Florida Alligator, one of the largest student-run newspapers in the country.
Contact: Alan Halaly