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Wondering If Your Building Is Safe After The Florida Condo Collapse? Here's How To Report Safety Concerns.

Construction in downtown Austin
Julia Reihs
/
KUT
Before and after construction starts, building plans in Austin have to go through several inspections. Once a building is occupied, inspections and safety checks get kicked over to the Austin Code Department.

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Austin Code Department supervisor Matthew Noriega says he's been getting more inquiries about building safety lately after a condominium building collapse in Florida left dozens dead and many more still missing.

The collapse occurred on June 24, when the 12-story building in Surfside, a small community north of Miami Beach, collapsed in the early morning. The exact reason for the collapse is still unclear, but some reports point to extreme structural damage that became apparent as early as 2018.

Surfside may be a thousand miles away, but the catastrophe has made structural integrity a top-of-mind concern for many.

People are asking more questions about the safety of their own residential buildings, Noriega says. He recently got a call from someone who noticed broken tension cables in their parking garage. Noriega went out to investigate, issued a violation for the broken cables and assured the resident that the violation wouldn't affect the safety of the entire building.

"We will answer anyone's concerns," Noriega says. "We will go out and inspect... If we find something, yes, we will take it to the next step."

That's standard procedure for the Code Department, which Noriega says is a "reactor department," meaning they inspectors only show up after people report potential code violations or only when there's a complaint. That's why reporting is so crucial, he says.

What happened in Surfside "could happen anywhere," Noriega says. "These types of events can occur in any city, but they can be preventable as long as everyone remains vigilant."

People can report possible code violations by calling 311 or by filing a report online.

Building Inspections

Before and after construction starts, building plans in Austin have to go through several inspections. Those are handled by the Development Services Department. But once a building is occupied, inspections and safety checks get kicked over to the Austin Code Department.

After someone reports a violation and someone from the code department shows up to investigate, the next steps depend on the severity of the situation. Inspectors may just leave notice of a violation. Or they might determine that more investigating is needed to determine if a building is structurally sound. Code inspectors aren't structural engineers, Noriega says, but they can determine if an owner or property manager should look into hiring one, for example.

"We will notify all legal responsible parties on that building. So if there's a property owner, they will be notified. If there's a homeowner's association... they will be notified," he said.

Repeat Offenders

The Austin Code Department runs a Repeat Offender Program, which is a list of rental properties that have consistent structural failures or violations.

There are currently 77 properties on the Repeat Offender List. Some of them are owned by the same companies and most are multi-unit structures. The Austin Code Department will periodically inspect these properties up to once a year to make sure they complete their repairs and stay in compliance.

The program was created back in 2013 after the balcony of a three-story complex collapsed because of improper maintenance.

The city also has a Building Standards Commission that looks into buildings that are lagging on their repairs. That commission could issue fines weekly or even daily if a property manager doesn't complete repairs in time.

Back in 2010, the commission investigated code violations at the Bel Air condos on South Congress Avenue, which were ultimately caused by faulty workmanship during the construction phase.

But the most important thing, Noriega insists, is to report. Without a report or complaint, there's nothing to jumpstart any of these processes.

"We're not going to go out there and look for things. We're not going and out driving around through neighborhoods, around the buildings to determine if something is safe," Noriega says. "We need for the citizens, or anyone, to call in to 311 for inspections to be conducted."

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