The state does not inspect condos, but building codes are “robust”
The Florida condo tower that suddenly collapsed last month was in place for a mandatory 40-year inspection and recertification.
In Minnesota, there is no state requirement for regular inspections of condominium buildings. However, the state does not face the same risks as Florida and has comprehensive building codes dating back to the 1970s that govern the construction of buildings, state officials said.
“The Miami-Dade County program in Florida is somewhat unique.… Because we don’t share the same risks as in Florida, people feel safer here,” said Scott McLellan, construction manager. from the State to the Ministry of Labor and Industry. Residents of condominiums “should feel safe in areas where the building code has been enforced in Minnesota. We have pretty robust building codes.”
In Minnesota, the responsibility for regularly maintaining and checking condominium buildings for structural issues rests with the owners, not with local or state building inspectors. Only new condominiums, additions and renovations should be inspected in most locations, unless local governments opt out of this requirement.
Cities in Minnesota can enact their own ordinances to regularly inspect existing buildings – and some do for rental properties – or the legislature could change state requirements, McLellan said.
“We are not in Florida,” he added. “Minnesota has its own unique challenges, and it has more to do with our extreme temperatures and heavy snowfall.… Are we doing everything we should be here in our state for our perceived risks? I would say yes, we are. “
Policymakers often take action following a tragedy.
More than two decades ago, the state added a rule that bleachers should be re-inspected regularly, a change made after problems emerged including gaps in running boards and ruptures in rotten seats.
In 2015, the roof of a water park collapsed at a resort in Otter Tail County, which had refused building code inspections during the resort’s construction. The guests were evacuated and no one was injured. Two years later, the legislature passed a law requiring state inspection of “public accommodation” spaces if no local code inspection exists.
“It could have been a disaster,” McLellan said, “but the legislature responded.”
This year, a new state law comes into effect requiring that high-rise public buildings built before the 1970s and 1980s be equipped with sprinklers, a change caused by a fire in Minneapolis that killed five people in 2019.
In Florida, the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside, Florida suddenly collapsed on June 24. As of Tuesday, 95 people were confirmed dead while 14 people were still missing in the rubble, according to the Associated Press.
Investigators are trying to determine the cause of the collapse. An engineering consultant hired by the condo’s board of directors had previously noted “major structural damage” to the garage and the pool deck, according to the report. Miami Herald.
In Minnesota, building inspectors in some local cities are answering questions from residents concerned about the safety of their own condominiums.
In Minneapolis, the city regularly inspects apartment buildings for code and safety compliance; condominiums are inspected on the basis of a complaint, when building permits are required or when owners of condominiums apply for a rental permit.
In Bloomington, if city inspectors receive a complaint from a resident or fire marshal, they can inspect a building and ask the owner to make repairs, but that’s rare, said Duke Johnson, responsible for the Bloomington building.
The Florida collapse “scared everyone,” Johnson said. “We’re more concerned about snow load and fires than this type of collapse. That’s why parking ramps are probably the most exposed to salt and water here due to winter.”
Kevin MacDonald, president of Minnesota-based Beton Consulting Engineers, said he expects the Surfside collapse may lead to “a renewed effort” on the part of local regulators tasked with monitoring structural integrity of their tallest buildings.
“I suspect we would see increased enforcement. I don’t know if we need to change the rules,” he said, adding that Minnesota laws are relatively strict to take into account the state’s cold winters.
In Bloomington, the city is considering a change in ordinance to require an annual technical review of all parking ramps over 10 years old. Other cities such as Minneapolis, St. Paul and Edina already have similar ordinances allowing multi-level commercial and residential parking ramps each year. The Mall of America performs annual inspections of its parking ramps, Johnson said.
Most cities like Bloomington don’t have structural engineers on staff, but St. Paul does. Ricardo Cervantes, director of safety and inspections for St. Paul, is eager to learn more about what happened in Florida. Then it will decide whether the city should reassess one of its own inspection programs, he said.
“Getting excited and trying to make changes without fully understanding what happened may not necessarily be an improvement in programs,” said Cervantes.
Of the 100 or so buildings that St. Paul classifies as towers, about half are used for commercial purposes and inspected on cycles of one to three years, depending on the type of business they house. Every rental residential unit in the city, including those in condos, is inspected on a rotating schedule based on the buildings’ past compliance with the code.
Apartments or homes with serious violations must be inspected annually, while the best-maintained properties are placed on a six-year schedule. The city can enforce criminal citations or condemn properties that need urgent repairs, said Angie Wiese, fire safety manager at St. Paul.
Many cities are facing a backlog of inspections that has built up during the COVID-19 pandemic, she said. But even at the start of the pandemic, when much less was known about the spread of the virus, staff equipped with masks and plenty of disinfectant were responding to complaints about buildings.
Yet after the Surfside collapse, “it is only good practice to do a bowel test,” Wiese added. “We are careful not to make the headlines.”
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141
Katie Galioto • 612-673-4478