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Should I panic? The role of structural condition assessment for condominiums

[fa icon="calendar"] Dec 1, 2021 11:04:19 AM / by Kenneth R Quigley, PE

There is much concern about the structural safety of existing condominium properties, and fear of catastrophic building failure. A collapse like in Surfside is extremely rare; yet partial collapses and other structural failures do happen. Owners and boards need to maintain the building and have it inspected regularly. For condos, that means getting a property condition assessment to take a deep dive into the health of the building(s).


Many condo boards request reserve studies, to understand upcoming investments that may need to be made for the property. The role of these reports is to understand the financial health of the building’s association and plan for anticipated maintenance, repairs, and capital improvements. They have a role in the management of condominiums, yet they do not provide a complete picture of the state of the building. Because these reports are not typically done by architects or engineers, they do not dive deep into structural issues or examine the building envelope and roof.


An in-depth analysis requires a property condition assessment conducted by a licensed architect or engineer; which can feed into and inform the reserve study process. There are currently few requirements for building owners to inspect the structural integrity of their properties once construction is complete and a certificate of occupancy is issued. Given the age of much of the condo construction, this can be problematic.


In Florida, for example, Miami-Dade County requires a property condition assessment forty years after the completion of a condominium building—an inspection “for the purpose of determining the general structural condition of the building and the general condition of its electrical systems.” While that gets boards and owners thinking about the overall health of the building, it has limited utility because it is only required after four decades, and a lot can happen to a building in that time.


Ensuring structural safety

A property condition assessment, sometimes referred to as a structural condition assessment, provides owners with some key information to help them make decisions about maintaining and protecting their buildings.


A licensed building professional will conduct the inspection, recommended by ASCE 11: Guideline for Structural Condition Assessment of Existing Buildings, to be done in two phases:


  1. Visual inspection. An experienced architect or engineer will identify signs of building movement and evidence of water intrusion, which can deteriorate materials inside the walls. 
  2. Investigate issues uncovered during the visual inspection. This often includes destructive testing, especially in the case where water damage is suspected—breaking through walls and opening up columns to understand the extent of the damage


A trained structural engineer can tell a lot about the condition of a building from looking at it with a critical eye. They can provide information about what will be needed to repair these issues, including providing a rough cost estimate.


Even a property condition assessment from a trained engineer cannot catch everything. Buildings deal with gravity loads every day, extreme loads like hurricanes or earthquakes that, even when designed for, can take a toll on the health of the structure. The goal of a property condition assessment is not to identify repairs or actions to get the risk down to zero. There will always be a risk. The goal is to give the building the best chance to remain safe and structurally sound for its residents.


Get in touch today to talk to us about an assessment of your property.


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