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Florida collapse 'a wake-up call' for condominium owners, boards, managers
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Florida collapse 'a wake-up call' for condominium owners, boards, managers

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Jim Yost of Elite Management and Advisory Services talks about how he advises condo boards to maintain oceanfront properties to protect structural integrity at Sea Pointe Village Condos in Diamond Beach.

When visitors look at Seapointe Village condominiums, a private beach property at the south end of the Wildwoods, they see the beauty and luxury of living steps from the ocean.

When building manager Jim Yost, owner of Elite Management and Advisory Services in Wildwood, looks at the property he manages, he sees something more.

“Look at all those windows and sliding glass doors,” Yost said Thursday during a tour of the three buildings that make up the six-story Seapointe Village and the single high-rise called The Grand at Diamond Beach, which he also manages.

Doors, windows and patios are where the water can be driven into the structural parts of the building by high winds and storms, Yost said.

Both complexes have recently redone their waterproofing systems to protect structural integrity, he said.

In the wake of the collapse of the Champlain South Tower in Surfside, Florida, on June 24, Yost said condominium boards and homeowners’ associations have a chance to learn from others’ mistakes. As of Saturday afternoon 24 people had been confirmed dead, and another 124 were missing.

“It’s a wake-up call,” Yost said as he stood outside Seapointe Village, with its 520 units that sell for $250,000 to $1 million. The first building went up in 1986, and the complex was completed in 1998. There are seven condo associations, with a master umbrella group over them.

“Long-term water infiltration is in my opinion what caused it,” Yost said of the Florida collapse. “If it’s getting into the structure, it means the façade hasn’t been maintained. Once it’s down into structural planks and supports, you’ve got big problems.”

When water gets into the rebar steel inside the concrete planks that make up the building, Yost said, they rust to the point they lose strength.

Yost, who is also managing partner of Ocean Property Management in Wildwood, believes that in the Surfside collapse, “the planks eventually collapsed, one fell onto another ... bringing the whole structure down.”

His firms manage more than 30 condo associations in southern New Jersey, he said, many of which are high- or mid-rise oceanfront properties.

Until recently, the main approach to protecting against water damage was a barrier system to keep water out, but eventually engineers realized that’s almost impossible with oceanfront properties, Yost said. So they developed drainage systems instead to get rid of the water that gets in.

“It’s ongoing substantial work that needs to be funded through an annual budget,” Yost said. “But a lot of seashore owners are reluctant because they are second homes. The first thing they cut is infrastructure spending. It’s fine to take a year off, but you still need inspections every year.”

Condo owners buy their individual units, but fund repairs and maintenance of common areas through a monthly fee paid to a condo association, made up of board members elected by the community.

Sometimes, if the waterproofing isn’t good enough, sections of the structure need to be replaced or strengthened.

At Seapointe Village, the first multimillion-dollar maintenance project happened in 2005 and involved replacing the 70,000-square-foot concrete deck that holds common areas, gardens and waterfalls and acts as the roof of the underground parking garage.

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While the building was constructed with materials stronger than code required, its waterproofing wasn’t done well enough to prevent some damage.

“This has (concrete) planks, similar to (buildings in) Florida,” he said of the construction method. “A structural engineer’s annual inspection had identified concerns. If we hadn’t done it then, more water would have migrated in and done more damage.”

In the Florida collapse, “they knew about the work but didn’t do it over time,” Yost said. “The cost increased to $15 million they delayed it so long.”

As long as you make and keep to an inspection and maintenance schedule, based on recommendations from engineers and other professionals, you can feel safe in large seaside properties, Yost said.

A spokesperson for New Jersey’s Department of Community Affairs said the state does not recertify buildings the way Florida does, with a process every 40 years.

Instead, special inspectors must verify that work done on Class I (large and complex) buildings has been completed according to the building subcode, “Structural Tests and Special Inspections.”

“This involves certain components of construction that are critical to the long-term safety of the building, including, but not limited to, welding and high-strength bolts in structural steel; concrete footings and structural members; masonry construction; site soil conditions; and the placement of fill and pile foundations,” DCA spokesperson Lisa Ryan said in an email.

The state requires special inspectors to have specialized engineering or architectural education and training, well beyond that of regular building inspectors, according to the DCA.

“Once a building is complete, a certificate of occupancy is issued ... and the local construction office is no longer involved, regardless of building size or location,” Ryan said. “It is then the duty of the building owner to maintain their property/investment.”

On Thursday afternoon, Joe Alfassa, of Rockland County, New York, was walking to the beach from his condo at Seapointe Village.

A summer resident here for about 30 years, Alfassa said he isn’t worried about the structural integrity of Seapointe Village.

“This is well kept, unlike the place in Florida,” Alfassa said. “They don’t let that (deterioration) happen here. The buildings’ board members stay on top of things. They aren’t afraid to ask for money if they need to fix something.”

Alfassa said he raised his children here during summers, and now an adult son has purchased a unit in one building and an adult daughter bought one in another.

“My son met his wife here,” Alfassa said.

That generational continuity helps when it comes to funding infrastructure projects, Yost said.

“Forty-five percent of owners here are original owners,” Yost said. “They have an emotional attachment here.”

Champlain Towers was also built prior to 1980, when building codes did not require the structural reinforcements required after that date, Yost said.

After 1980, additional supports were required where the planks meet each other and meet the support columns, Yost said. That creates a backup system to prevent catastrophes.

Concrete planks in buildings constructed after 1980 also have to be a minimum of 12 inches thick, compared with 8 inches prior to that date. The greater thickness also increases strength, he said.

“There have been a whole series of things put together that have made newer buildings much stronger — an evolution of building codes,” Yost said.

REPORTER: Michelle Brunetti Post

609-272-7210

mpost@pressofac.com

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Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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