Miami condo collapse: reports reveal board’s long debate over repairs
Documents obtained by media show concern and frustration after engineer warned of structural damage
New reports have detailed long debate among condo board members at Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida, over extensive and costly repairs the building was expected to undergo before it collapsed on 24 June.
On Saturday the death toll stood at 24, with 124 people missing.
Emails, letters, notes and presentations from meetings of the residents’ association board revealed infighting after an engineer found in 2018 that the building had “major structural damage” and recommended necessary but costly repairs.
Members raised concerns that the board was acting too slowly. In late 2019, five members of the seven-person board resigned in two weeks, citing frustration with the drawn-out debate.
“The building is falling apart,” wrote Marcelo Pena, a former board member, according to the New York Times. “Somebody can seriously be injured or killed with the state of the concrete.”
In a September 2019 letter resigning as president of the board, Anette Goldstein wrote of her frustration.
“We work for months to go in one direction and at the very last minute objections are raised that should have been discussed and resolved right in the beginning,” Goldstein wrote in the letter, obtained by the Washington Post.
“This pattern has repeated itself over and over, ego battles, undermining the roles of fellow board members, circulation of gossip and mistruths.”
One resident told the New York Times people recalled “screaming and yelling” at meetings.
The board was then working with condo owners to decide how to respond to the 2018 report. The engineer, Frank Morabito, was hired to assess the building in anticipation of a mandatory recertification process buildings in Miami and its surrounds must undergo every 40 years, to ensure structural and electrical safety.
It is likely to take months to investigate the cause of the collapse. But Morabito’s report provides insight into the problems the building was facing.
Morabito’s findings regarding the pool deck have attracted attention, as it appears a section collapsed into the parking garage moments before the building collapsed in the early hours of 24 June. One woman, currently unaccounted for, called her husband right before the collapse and said she saw a sinkhole where the pool used to be.
Morabito noted that waterproofing below the pool deck and drive had failed and was “causing major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below these areas”.
A “major error” in the development of the building saw the waterproofing laid on a flat surface rather than a slanted one, which would allow water to drain. Morabito noted that replacing the waterproofing would be “extremely expensive” and disruptive.
As debate over repairs continued, the price tag of such repairs rose from $9m to $15m. Each unit would have been expected to pay between $80,000 and $200,000, according to the New York Times.
In April, the board agreed to pay $15m for repairs, according to the Washington Post. One former member of the board told the New York Times it had taken out credit to help meet such payments.
But that same month, dozens of residents signed a letter, obtained by the Washington Post, that asked the board to consider lowering the cost of repairs, saying: “We cannot afford an assessment that doubles the amount of the maintenance dues currently being paid.”
It appears repairs were due to start. In May, according to the Miami Herald, the board reached out to Surfside officials, asking for approval for major plans.
On Friday, as search and rescue operations continued, a building a few miles away was evacuated. A review prompted by the Surfside collapse deemed the building unsafe.
On Saturday, the city announced an emergency order to demolish the standing portion of Champlain Towers South.