The Florida apartment building that suffered a devastating partial collapse was unstable, sinking for decades — and had recently developed sizable exterior cracks, according to reports.
The Champlain Towers South in Surfside had been sinking at a rate of about 2 millimeters a year in the 1990s, according to a 2020 study conducted by Shimon Wdowinski, a professor at Florida International University.
And on Thursday, town officials said the high-rise had been undergoing a county-mandated 40-year recertification process, which involves electrical and structural inspections.
But reports also have emerged about cracks in the 12-story structure.
In 2015, a resident sued the condo association for failing to fix cracks in the outside wall of her unit, NBC News reported, citing a lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade County.
The owner, whom the network could not reach for comment, said the cracks led to water damage that cost $15,000. The court documents noted that the cracks were a structural issue, so the association was liable for the cost.
The resident had previously filed a lawsuit against the association in 2001 because of a similar issue, NBC News reported.
The two sides reached a settlement in the case, but that kind of cracking was described as “of interest” in the county’s Structural Recertification Form, according to the outlet.
Cracked walls or shifting foundations can be indications that sinking has affected the stability of a building, Matthys Levy, a consulting engineer, professor at Columbia University and author of “Why Buildings Fall Down: How Structures Fail,” told USA Today.
The building’s residents might have noticed changes, Levy told the paper.
“Had there been changes in the building? Cracks in the walls, in the floor? Floors not being level, things rolling off tables?” he said. That would suggest the building had been shifting.
Kenneth Direktor, an attorney for Becker, a law firm that has worked for the building since 1993, said the building had hired an engineer for a 40-year recertification process, as is required under county building code, NBC News reported.
“They were well into the review with the engineer about the project,” Direktor told the Miami Herald.
Any county property that was constructed 40 years ago or longer is required to complete the inspection process within a few years of that anniversary to certify “each building or structure is structurally and electrically safe for the specified use for continued occupancy,” according to a notice sent to property owners, NBC News reported.
Peter Zalewski, a principal at Condo Vultures, a South Florida real estate market analysis company, told the network that there are recent examples of the local government shutting down Miami Beach apartment buildings and forcing residents to move out if they fail their inspections.
“I’ve been here since 1993, and I’ve never seen something like this happen,” Zalewski told NBC News, referring to Thursday’s disaster.
“You would think any problems that large would have been detectable. If a recertification was being done, expect reports that say what problems currently exist in the building,” he added.
“I have a feeling that something else is going to be discovered that happened that we can’t assume right off the bat,” Zalewski said. “Forty-year-old buildings don’t just collapse, and there’s a whole series of them lining up and down the coast.”