Bill would require structural inspections of multi-family dwellings to prevent collapses

By: - August 22, 2022 7:09 am

The Champlain Towers South condo ruins in Surfside, Florida. (Courtesy of Miami Dade Fire and Rescue)

New multi-family buildings in New Jersey would have to be cleared by a structural inspector under new legislation inspired by last year’s deadly condominium collapse in Surfside, Florida.

Sens. Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) and Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex) introduced a bill in June that would require an engineer or similarly credentialed expert to conduct structural inspections before, during, and after a multi-family building’s construction.

The state Department of Community Affairs now inspects multi-family dwellings periodically, but those checks focus on maintenance and habitability concerns like heating, infestation, and lead — and not a building’s structural integrity — and they aren’t required to be done by engineers.

The bill also would require housing associations in those buildings to create and support reserve funds to pay for anticipated structural repairs over the life of the building. Many associations in New Jersey already do this, but they’re self-policed.

“Even though our state has a really strong building code, we think this is an area that we could really be more thoughtful and aggressive,” Singleton said. “We want to make sure we create a safe environment and give peace of mind to those living there.”

Some New Jersey municipalities, like Jersey City, passed similar local ordinances in the wake of Surfside, where 98 people died after a 12-story, 40-year-old beachfront tower collapsed on June 24, 2021. That collapse was largely blamed on delayed maintenance and structural complications.

New Jersey has had several building collapses since Surfside, although none on that scale. A partial building collapse killed a worker last November in Bound Brook. Wind knocked down a four-story building under construction in December in Jersey City. And two workers were hurt in May when a stairwell collapsed at an Essex County construction site.

Under Singleton’s bill, a structural inspector would be tasked with confirming that load-bearing systems conform to building plans, and a certificate of occupancy wouldn’t be issued until necessary repairs or modifications are made.

The legislation would additionally require housing associations to hire credentialed experts to study whether they have sufficient capital reserve funds to meet structural integrity needs, draft a 30-year funding plan, and do a new study every five years. Associations would then be required to ensure the fund has all the money it needs.

Developers also would have to create a schedule of preventative maintenance and inspections the association would be obligated to follow — with the document made available to prospective buyers.

Singleton’s bill doesn’t address enforcement or penalties for noncompliance.

Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez (D-Middlesex) is sponsoring the Assembly version of the bill.

A similar bill introduced by Sen. Samuel Thompson (R-Middlesex) last fall did not make it beyond introduction.


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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.