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A Surfside condo collapse grand jury report calls for immediate reforms

The cleared lot where the collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building once stood in Surfside, Fla. A total of 98 people died when the building partially collapsed on June 24, 2021.
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The cleared lot where the collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building once stood in Surfside, Fla. A total of 98 people died when the building partially collapsed on June 24, 2021.

Updated December 15, 2021 at 8:08 PM ET

A Miami-Dade County grand jury on Wednesday released a series of recommendations for condo safety throughout Florida after a deep examination of the deadly collapse in Surfside earlier this year.

The report comes nearly six months after the 12-story Champlain Towers South crumbled, killing 98 people. While the 43-page document avoids conclusions about what caused this specific disaster, it states the urgent need for sweeping reforms to prevent future tragedies.

Excavators dig through the pile of the Champlain Towers South debris on July 13, 2021.
Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images
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Excavators dig through the pile of the Champlain Towers South debris on July 13, 2021.

"After listening to numerous building construction experts, evaluative panels and involved individuals, the Grand Jury came to a strong conclusion: save lives, not just money," State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said in a statement.

"I hope this report provides an effective pathway to do that," she added.

Among the "serious lessons" learned, the report offers:

  • The Florida Condominium Act "desperately needs serious revision."
  • The 40-year recertification requirements should be reduced to 10 to 15 years.
  • Condo boards across the state must be more involved and accountable for protecting lives and preserving structures.
  • The Florida Department of Business and Regulation, which supervises condo associations, needs to be restructured so it can more adequately oversee condominium governance.
  • In the case of the tragedy at Champlain Towers South, the 40-year old building was undergoing recertification at the time of its collapse. The grand jury concluded that over the lifespan of the building, "steps could have and should have been taken in a timely manner to ensure the structural integrity of the building."

    "The deaths of 98 people are too high a price to pay" to learn those lessons, Fernandez Rundle said.

    Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava responded to the report, saying her office is "committed to getting answers and accountability for the victims of the unthinkable tragedy in Surfside."

    Levine Cava noted an overlap between the grand jury's recommendations and several the county is currently working with policymakers to implement. One of them is the recertification timeline, including financial support for condo associations to make repairs. However, on the issue of recertification, the mayor's proposal recommends moving to a 30-year process, which is up to 3 times as long as that recommended in the grand jury report.

    Cava Levine added: "We remain committed to working closely hand in hand with the State Attorney to pave a path forward from this tragedy that ensures a disaster like this one never happens again in our community."

    About 3.5 million people live in condos across Florida, according to the state attorney's office. However, the only region that has begun to overhaul oversight regulations is South Florida.

    The report raises red flags about the dangers of building in Florida's marine environment, noting the impact of salt air on concrete. Investigators uncovered evidence of extensive corrosion and overcrowded concrete reinforcement after the Surfside collapse.

    "If we do not build safely, if we do not immediately institute suggested improvements to the policies and procedures ... we predict that the Chaplain Tower South Condominium building will not be the last partial building collapse in our community," the report stated.

    "All Floridians, everywhere in the state, deserve to know that their condominium homes are, and will remain, safe," Fernandez Rundle said.

    Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.