Beefed-up safety measures might affect hundreds of buildings in Boca Raton

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BOCA RATON — Hundreds of buildings in Boca Raton could be affected by the city’s proposed safety program, which is poised to go into effect to prevent another tragedy like the June 24 collapse in Surfside that killed 98 people.

But at least one professional engineer has urged city officials to go further when the council votes on the proposal on Aug. 24.

The total number of buildings has not yet been determined, according to a city spokeswoman. But a South Florida Sun Sentinel database of condominiums and apartments communities shows about 20 building projects near the ocean. Some of those projects may include two or three individual buildings each.

About a dozen projects further west within city limits may also be affected. With office buildings included, the total could grow to hundreds of individual buildings.

The program, if approved, is likely to affect buildings older than 30 years and taller than three stories or 50 feet. Priority for inspections will likely be given to buildings near the ocean, because of saltwater’s corrosive effect on structures.

Here’s what would happen next:

  • City staff will establish a schedule of needed repairs and begin sending notices to building owners, according to a city spokeswoman. Owners will have one year to submit an engineering report to the city detailing the needed repairs. The city will issue permits for those repairs and building owners will typically be given six months to complete those repairs. If they need more time, they can ask city building officials.
  • After those buildings are recertified, they will need to repeat the process every 10 years.
  • If building owners fail to do the required work by the deadline, code enforcement and a special magistrate can issue fines, according to Brandon Schaad, director of development services for the city.

But Rick Zimmer, a professional engineer and Boca resident, said at Tuesday’s city council meeting that city officials should:

  • Ensure more detailed building oversight and inspection processes.
  • Avoid loopholes that allow building owners to skirt required fixes by only addressing cosmetic issues instead of structural ones.
  • Mandate follow-ups before the 10-year reinspection dates to make sure fixes have been done properly.

Zimmer declined to be interviewed by the Sun Sentinel, saying he wanted to wait until the proposal was finalized, but he said he was willing to help city officials make the program as effective as possible.

The city said it does not intend to provide financial assistance to building owners or individual residents for repair work. Building owners will be responsible for those costs and that will likely mean assessments and increased condo fees. Residents of beach-front condos had mixed reactions to that possibility.

Moshe Alkalay, who lives in the Newth Gardens condominiums on Banyan Road, said he would be happy to pay into a feeling of safety that more inspections may offer.

“In light of what happened [in Surfside], I’m willing to pay. I’ve paid more for nothing, so this is a good expense,” said Alkalay, 64. “What can be more important? Early detection is the key. You [don’t want to] find out the other way that it’s bad.”

Tommye Frey, 70, lives at The Patrician Condominium on South Ocean Boulevard. She, too, thinks an increase in costs would be a good thing if it helps assure safety and building integrity: “I’m thrilled, naturally. This is a very old condo. It’s been in my family for years and years.”

Frey’s husband has a career in building safety and when the couple moved into the building full time, he said they needed to reinforce their concrete. But the recommendation was met with strong opposition from neighbors, she said. Economic downturn during the pandemic has made it even harder for many people to afford continuous increases to their cost of living.

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“People are complaining,” she said. “So many people were laid off, and some elderly people [who have] lived here for 40 years are on a fixed income. So it’s difficult for them and they don’t like it.”

The work Frey’s husband proposed was eventually done, but residents are still paying for it, she said.

Those neighbors couldn’t be reached for comment, but a resident of a nearby apartment building, TGM Oceana, at North Ocean Boulevard, said that increases could mean she would have to move.

“If I were coming in as a new renter, I would want the building to be up to code and safe, of course. I would not want to have what happened in Miami,” said Tonia, who did not want to to use her full name because she doesn’t own the unit she lives in.

“It depends on what the increase is. If it’s fair enough to justify, if the owners or the people that I’m getting into a contract with are not trying to take advantage,” she said, but “as a renter, I never want to pay more.”

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