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Boca Raton First City to Boost Condo Rules Over Inspections

Two months after the Champlain Towers tragedy, Boca Raton created new rules, with first inspections now due after 30 years. About 242 buildings are impacted.

BOCA RATON, Fla. – Boca Raton became the first in Palm Beach County to create a building recertification program on Tuesday. The day marked two months since the tragic fall of the Champlain Towers condo complex in Surfside.

The new ordinance will require buildings at their 30-year mark to submit an inspection report every 10 years. It does not include single-family homes and duplexes. The law will affect buildings that stand more than three stories high or ones that measure more than 5,000 square feet and hold more than 500 people.

“I don’t think this is a reaction solely to the Surfside tragedy,” Mayor Scott Singer said. “Obviously that got people thinking about it. But it caused me to look at, ‘Why doesn’t Palm Beach County have a recertification ordinance in place?’

“I think the 30-year timeline is appropriate. I don’t think there’s anyone today saying that if they were passing a new ordinance, they’d start with 40 years.”

Boca Raton has identified 242 buildings that will immediately be subject to recertification under the new ordinance. The city will follow a schedule for four years to eliminate the backlog in four areas starting east and west of Interstate 95.

Boca Raton may mail the first notice of required inspection in the next few months. The notice will be sent via certified mail at least one year before the deadline. If returned unclaimed, it will be posted at the building.

Under the new ordinance, building owners must submit a structural report and an electrical report, and identify any deficiencies that need to be solved. Building owners who submit an inadequate report will have 30 days to offer corrections and will have up to three opportunities to do so. After that, those who fail to get city approval will be referred to the Permitting and Construction Review Board for final determination.

Boca Raton will give building owners 30 days to put forward a repair plan, which must detail the proposed schedule to complete repairs and to submit applications for any required permits. Building officials will determine if the proposed schedule is reasonable and if the building is in any imminent danger.

Building owners who fail to submit the inspection report, get approval of the repair plan or complete the repairs within the timeframe outlined will be subject to fines or other penalties.

Boca Raton plans to create a database that will make inspection reports and other information related to the building recertification program available to the public in accordance with the Public Records Act.

While the City Council passed the new ordinance in a unanimous vote, Councilwoman Yvette Drucker had some reservations. She questioned if the city moved too fast without giving investigators enough time to determine the source of the condo collapse that killed 98 people.

“We have to get this right for our community,” Drucker said. “If things go wrong or we don’t make the right decisions, it’s going to affect a lot of people. I’m kind of 50-50. We have to keep our community safe. However, part of me feels that there’s so many things that we do not know yet that I wish we had a little more time to ponder it over.”

Drucker echoed the concerns of several residents who urged the City Council to wait for investigators, but Deputy Mayor Andrea O’Rourke argued that it would be long before anyone knew what happened.

“If we wait, we’ll be waiting for the same issues that we’re talking about tonight,” O’Rourke said. “If we wait a year to do that, then in a year we’ll have to address those issues. I think being proactive as opposed to reactive is very important. To wait and hear the Surfside report, I think it could be years because there’s so many lawsuits involved. Who knows when we’ll know why that really happened? I’m sure that shoddy construction had a lot to do with it, but doing work like this will eliminate that.”

Councilwoman Monica Mayotte agreed with O’Rourke. She also argued that Boca Raton should not wait for the county or the state to create a building recertification program, pointing out that the state will not address the matter until the next legislative session in January 2022. She added that the city could later make changes to align its law with the county and the state.

“We’re going to learn as we go and we’ll make changes as we go,” Mayotte said. “I think that affords us the chance to be able to put a stake in the ground now. Maybe we can make some changes down the road once some of our backlogs have been taken care of. We can then add these smaller buildings into the ordinance to be able to take care of them, too.”

Councilman Andy Thomson also stood firm in his support for the new ordinance. He said other parts of the state were not situated like Boca Raton, pointing out that the City Council sought to create a building recertification program that met the needs of a coastal city.

“Any solution they have will be statewide and will be one-size fits all,” Thompson said. “There are times when that makes sense, but there are other times when, for example, a coastal community with high-rise buildings may need to move faster and may need to move with more urgency.

“I don’t want to see perfection be the enemy of progress. In my view, this ordinance is substantial progress. It wouldn’t be prudent for us to not move because the health and safety of our residents is the number one priority for us.”

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