Design + Architecture

New report says more inspections, deeper reserve funds can help buildings prevent tragedy

By Jennifer White Karp | November 4, 2021 - 2:30PM 

In response to the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo, a new report from the Community Associations Institute (CAI) recommends states implement stricter rules on building inspections and prescribed levels of reserve funds.

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What can New York City condo and co-op boards do to prevent a tragedy like the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo from happening here? That question has sparked new research, culminating in a report from the Community Associations Institute (CAI), as reported by Habitat Magazine.

Stricter rules on building inspections and prescribed levels of reserve funding are two of the main recommendations to come out of the report, created from three months of research by a task force of 400 specialists.

The report proposes state legislatures mandate reserve studies and set levels of reserve funding, noting that reserve funding for emergency repairs in condos is required in just 11 states, but not in New York. New York co-op boards must periodically set aside reasonable sums for reserves, the report says. There is no statutory requirement to conduct a reserve study in New York.

One chilling aspect of the Champlain Tower tragedy is that in 2018 an engineer warned of “major structural damage” and urged the building to repair cracked columns and other defects in the parking structure under the building, according to The New York Times. Work was just getting started, more than two and half years later—at the time of the collapse. Residents there were facing assessments ranging from $80,000 to as high as $200,000.

Although there is no requirement to have reserve funds, the industry standard is to have three months of maintenance or common charges. Still, many NYC co-ops and condos operate with practically no reserves and raise common charges or assess when they need additional funds, Steven Wagner, a partner at the Manhattan law firm Wagner, Berkow & Brandt (and a Brick sponsor) told us earlier this year.

"That’s not great management but some residents would rather have the money in their own accounts than sitting in a bank account earning no interest for the co-op or condo,” Wagner says.

He says buildings should have a capital plan, and if there isn’t one, hiring an independent architect or engineer to conduct a survey of the building as a first step in establishing one. 

The CAI report recommends states enact stricter rules on building inspections for all multi-family buildings made of concrete, load-bearing masonry, steel, and hybrid buildings.

For new construction, the first inspection would take place no more than five years after occupancy. For buildings more than 10 years old, the first inspection occur within two years after the new law passes.

These initial inspections would act as baseline for future inspections and identify areas of concern. Follow up inspections would not exceed every 10 years during the first 20 years after construction, and every five years afterwards, unless there are concerns that warrant more frequent inspections.

This would be a more thorough inspection procedure than what is currently in place. While some of New York City’s local laws governing things like façade safety, energy compliance, and gas line inspections have become stricter in recent years, there is currently no requirement for a complete building analysis and certification.

 

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