Florida condo collapse has larger implications for landlords and property managers

We are deeply saddened by the loss of many souls in the collapse of a 12-story condominium in Surfside, Florida.

To varying degrees, the Bay Area has had its own tragedies with structural integrity. Many of us recall the buzzing about baseball in 1989 and the 6.7 magnitude earthquake that occurred when game 3 of the World Series was underway. This led to improvements in earthquake-resistant structures and better forecasting of building performance.

In the not-so-distant past, we are reminded of Oakland’s Ghost Ship tragedy, highlighting the need for effective building codes and diligent enforcement to maintain a habitable dwelling.

Also seared in our memory is Berkeley’s deadly 2015 balcony collapse, with dry rot caused by improper construction the likely culprit. This, too, led to new legislation that required inspectors to check the waterproofing on decks of balconies of all buildings with three or more multi-family units.


Could a building collapse happen here? 

A structure that is reduced to rubble is a rare event anywhere. Never say never, but there is a consensus among experts that California buildings have a leg up on structural integrity because of added protections - they are built to withstand the seismic loads of earthquakes. There is, however, a question mark for older buildings that have not been retrofitted.



The remote possibility of a similar catastrophe was concerning enough for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to sail through a motion mandating engineering inspections for older high-rise buildings.

Closer to home, the sinking Millennium Tower is believed to be stable and safe. Already designed to stringent earthquake resistance standards, the hulking building is undergoing structural upgrades at the price tag of $100 million.


A wake-up call for condo associations

We have always admonished our clients not to be penny-wise and a pound foolish. Clearly, the Florida tragedy stresses the need for condo associations, through proactive inspections, to look for telltale signs of disrepair and immediately do something about a problem that arises before it turns into a crisis. Older buildings should get even more scrutiny.

Condo owners should take a hard look at HOA fees that fund short and long-term building maintenance. These fees should be right-sized to cover any unanticipated and costly defects.


Our larger takeaways

Tragedies are rarely singular events, but a sequence of identifiable problems that go neglected. Landlords and property managers should not allow defects to fester.

The collapse of a condo building is an extraordinarily rare event and perhaps the first of its kind in the country.  Yet there are plenty of other, more common instances when landlords and property managers allow a situation to worsen, for example, a leaking roof or a hoarding tenant who attracts vermin and creates an egress issue for other tenants.

Whether or not the tenant has been behind on rent, all California leases come with an implied warranty of habitability. This means a landlord must keep the premises in a condition fit for the occupation of human beings and comply with applicable housing and building codes/standards that impact a tenant’s safety and health.

In this whimsical video that admittedly goes a little fast for the eyes, we outlined the critical aspects of habitability that cannot be ignored.



Being the eyes and ears of your property

During the pandemic, many landlords and property managers were put into a difficult position because they were unable to gain access to the premises to make necessary repairs or do preventive maintenance. After all, the tenant feared contagion. We advised clients to prioritize those projects that related to habitability and then, only with proper precautionary measures.

As California reopened, a failure to access the rental unit has become less of a problem. In every time and season, though, it has been vexing for landlords or their agents when they are denied entry when there is a permissible reason and proper notice has been served. If there are any obstructions, Bornstein Law can assist.


Now is not the time to hire a friend of a cousin who happens to be a handyman

It’s not enough to detect a problem and make necessary repairs; the work should be done by licensed and insured contractors or the landlord/property manager invites liability. Imagine, for example, an amateur doing a shoddy job on a furnace and tenants get carbon monoxide poisoning.


Don’t take any gambles with your rental business

When in doubt, contact the law firm built for rental property owners. For the better part of three decades, Bornstein Law has helped landlords, property managers, and real estate professionals optimize their investments, reduce or eliminate risk, and power through challenges.