Florida Condo Residents Are Forced to Evacuate After Safety Inspection

Residents of a South Florida condominium building were overcome with emotion ahead of the deadline to evacuate their homes on Tuesday, after a recent engineering inspection deemed the building structurally unsafe.

The building, the Majestic Isle condominium, in North Bay Village and just north of Miami, is miles from where the Champlain Towers South partially collapsed nearly two years ago. That building’s failure was one of the worst in U.S. history, killing 98 people, and prompted South Florida residents to worry about the safety of their own buildings.

On Wednesday, North Bay Village officials received a letter from an engineer, hired by the building’s association in anticipation of the required 60-year building certification, city officials said.

The engineer who inspected the three-story property on April 14 raised “serious concerns” about the building’s condition in a report, North Bay Village officials said. Residents were required to evacuate by Tuesday morning.

North Bay Village’s mayor, Brent Latham, said in an interview on Tuesday morning that the report indicated structural issues related to termites and sagging floors.

A leak from a roof drain caused a partial collapse last week, and residents from five units were evacuated, officials said.

The Majestic Isle condominium was built in 1960 and has 35 units. Some of the units are owned and others are rented, Mr. Latham said, and between 50 and 60 people live there.

On Monday night, during a special commission meeting, residents of the building took turns probing officials about their futures. A woman who was due to give birth soon asked for assistance in relocating her family. A man who had been part of the community for decades was too emotional to speak. Another woman asked when it might be safe to remove heavier items, like furniture.

“The only decision that elected officials or village staff can take when presented with engineering information that residents would be in danger, given the circumstances, is to take the engineering information on the face of it and act on that,” Mr. Latham told residents during the meeting.

“We don’t have the credentials, the ability, the wherewithal, or really, the moral currency, to undermine an engineering decision,” he said. “That’s just not something we do in the post-Champlain Towers era.”

City officials were working with a local hotel to help accommodate displaced residents, he said, and were paying for temporary relocation.

It’s unclear what will happen next, whether repairs will be carried out or if the condo owners will take a different action.

“The ultimate outcome of the building lies in the hands of the condo owners, who have to get together and decide what exactly they want to do with their building,” Mr. Latham said on Tuesday.

Buildings in South Florida have come under intense scrutiny since the collapse of the Champlain Towers South in 2021. That summer, residents of an eight-story residential building were forced to leave after it was deemed unsafe, according to CNN. Another building in North Miami Beach was evacuated in April 2022 over critical structural issues. Residents were forced out of a 14-story oceanfront building in Miami Beach in October after an engineer found several issues, including a main support beam in need of repair, The Associated Press reported.

Mr. Latham said unexpected evacuations in South Florida were likely to continue when buildings are regularly inspected. “That’s actually, definitely a good thing,” he said. “Because you’re not going to have any more tragedies. But in the meantime, it does create some significant life interruptions, which are hard to deal with for people that are affected by these situations.”

There are legacy buildings across South Florida in desperate need of repair and with the combination of years of deferred maintenance, intense weather, and climate change, buildings are breaking down more quickly than before, he said.

After Champlain Towers South collapsed, government officials in and around Miami ordered an immediate examination of hundreds of buildings, many of them built in the 1970s or earlier.

A federal investigation into what caused that collapse will take years. The land was sold and as part of a financial settlement ironed out in court, those who lost loved ones split a nearly $1 billion settlement. The condo owners who survived split a $96 million settlement.

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