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Surfside condo’s board had a duty to act on engineering firm’s findings, attorney says

‘They have a responsibility to everyone in that building,’ Barry Ansbacher tells I-TEAM

Condo structural deficiencies documented years before collapse
Condo structural deficiencies documented years before collapse

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In the days after a high-rise condo tower in Surfside collapsed, killing at least 10 people and leaving dozens of others missing, the town has released new documents showing that engineers knew about structural deficiencies at the Champlain Towers South Condominium years ago.

The documents reveal that Morabito Consultants, an engineering consulting firm, found extensive and costly repairs were needed to fix “systemic” issues with the condominium. While the firm didn’t warn of any imminent danger of collapse, it did conclude the building’s concrete and rebar were deteriorating.

Among the trove of records released by the town of Surfside are documents indicating that engineers were aware of water intrusion throughout the building in 2018. One engineering report uncovered “abundant cracking and spalling of concrete columns, beams and walls” in the parking garage.

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Images accompanying the firm’s findings showed visible damage to the columns on the garage, which was located on the ground floor, including hairline cracking at the underside of the garage floor slabs.

Images documented by Morabito Consultants in 2018 show evidence of problems that the engineering firm said required extensive and costly repairs. (Courtesy: The Town of Surfside)

According to the documents, Morabito Consultants said the waterproofing under the building’s pool deck had failed. The pool deck, the firm found, had been improperly laid flat when it should have been placed on a slope, which would have allowed water to run off and drain properly.

“The failed waterproofing is causing major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below these areas,” the firm noted. “Failure to replace the waterproofing in the near future will cause the extent of the concrete deterioration to expand exponentially.”

The firm wrote that “beneath the pool deck, where the slab had been epoxy-injected, new cracks were radiating from the originally repaired cracks.”

The building was due for its 40-year recertification, which is required to verify it’s safe to live in, and the firm recommended that repairs be made in a timely manner.

Florida Bar Board Certified Condominium and Construction Law Attorney Barry Ansbacher told the News4Jax I-TEAM that repairs would have been the responsibility of the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association’s board, which is made up of people who owned condos at the building.

“They are elected by the association to be the leadership and they have a responsibility to everyone in that building, that the building is being properly kept up,” Ansbacher said Monday. “If there’s deferred maintenance, that it’s being dealt with. … If they knew about the problem, they certainly had a duty to make sure that it’s acted upon.”

Generally, Ansbacher said, members of condominium associations in Florida work on a voluntary basis and cannot be held responsible for poor decisions, acts of omission or negligence. But he said there are exceptions in certain circumstances.

“If a board member acts with what’s considered recklessness, meaning there’s a high probability that someone can be hurt or endangered on their property, in those instances they could be personally responsible as well as the condominium association itself,” he said.

Morabito Consulting, the engineering firm that performed the 2018 inspection, was hired once again this spring by the condo association’s board to begin the 40-year recertification process.

The I-TEAM reached out to the consulting firm Monday to discuss its findings. A public relations agency hired by the firm referred a reporter to a prepared statement issued over the weekend:

“We completed our inspection and provided our report to the condominium association on Oct. 8, 2018, detailing our findings and recommendations. At that time, we also provided the condominium association with an estimate of the probable costs to make the extensive and necessary repairs. Among other things, our report detailed significant cracks and breaks in the concrete, which required repairs to ensure the safety of the residents and the public,” the statement said in part.

Read the engineering firm’s full statement

We at Morabito Consultants are saddened by the tragic events that have occurred at Champlain Towers South Condominium. Our hearts and prayers go out to everyone affected by this event. We also want to express our deep gratitude to the first responders and search-and-rescue teams who are working tirelessly to save the lives of the many who are still unaccounted for.

As has been reported, Morabito Consultants was retained in 2018 by the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association to prepare the 40-year Recertification of the condo building, as required by Miami-Dade County and the Town of Surfside. We are a structural engineering firm with nearly four decades of experience providing professional design and inspection services for a wide range of building structures, from high-rise residential and commercial properties to educational and healthcare facilities, among others.

We completed our inspection and provided our report to the condominium association on Oct. 8, 2018, detailing our findings and recommendations. At that time, we also provided the condominium association with an estimate of the probable costs to make the extensive and necessary repairs. Among other things, our report detailed significant cracks and breaks in the concrete, which required repairs to ensure the safety of the residents and the public.

Champlain Towers South Condominium Association engaged our firm again in June 2020 to prepare a “40-year Building Repair and Restoration” plan with detailed specifications for completing the necessary repairs and restoration work. At the time of the building collapse, roof repairs were underway, but concrete restoration had not yet begun. Our firm exclusively provides engineering consulting services. We do not provide construction-related services, such as building repair and restoration contracting.

We are deeply troubled by this building collapse and are working closely with the investigating authorities to understand why the structure failed. As we do so, we also continue to pray for all those impacted by this tragic event.

Morabito Consultants

About the Author:

Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.