The Florida condo tower that suddenly collapsed last month was up for a mandated 40-year inspection and recertification.
In Minnesota, there is no state requirement for regular inspections of condo buildings. However, the state doesn't face the same risks as Florida and has thorough building codes that date to the 1970s that govern building construction, state officials said.
"Florida's Miami-Dade County program is somewhat unique. … Because we don't share the same risks they do in Florida, people feel more secure here," said Scott McLellan, the state building official at the Department of Labor and Industry. Condo residents "should feel secure in the areas where the building code has been enforced in Minnesota. We have pretty robust building codes."
In Minnesota, the responsibility of maintaining and regularly checking condo buildings for structural issues rests with property owners, not local or state building inspectors. Only new condo buildings, additions and renovations are required to be inspected in most places, unless local governments opt out of that requirement.
Minnesota cities can enact their own ordinances to inspect existing buildings regularly — and some do for rental buildings — or the Legislature could change state requirements, McLellan said.
"We're not Florida," he added. "Minnesota has its own unique challenges, and it's more having to do with our extreme temperatures and heavy snowfalls. ... Are we doing everything we should be here in our state for our perceived risks? I would say yes we are."
Policymakers often take action following a tragedy.
More than two decades ago, the state added a rule that bleachers must be reinspected regularly, a change made after issues surfaced that included gaps in footboards and breaks in rotted seats.
In 2015, a water park roof collapsed at a resort in Otter Tail County, which had opted out of building code inspections when the resort was built. Guests were evacuated and no one was injured. Two years later, the Legislature passed a law requiring a state inspection of "public accommodation" spaces if no local code inspection exists.
"That could have been a catastrophe," McLellan said, "but the Legislature did react."
This year, a new state law takes effect requiring public high-rise buildings built before the 1970s and 1980s to be retrofitted with sprinklers, a change prompted by a Minneapolis fire that killed five people in 2019.
In Florida, the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside, Fla., suddenly collapsed June 24. As of Tuesday, 95 people were confirmed dead while 14 people still were missing in the debris, according to the Associated Press.
Investigators are trying to determine what caused the collapse. An engineering consultant hired by the condo board previously noted "major structural damage" to the garage and pool deck, according to the Miami Herald.
In Minnesota, some local cities' building inspectors are fielding questions from residents worried about their own condo building's safety.
In Minneapolis, the city inspects apartment buildings regularly for code and safety compliance; condo buildings are inspected on a complaint basis, when construction permits are required or when owners of a condo unit apply for rental licenses.
In Bloomington, if city inspectors get a complaint from a resident or fire marshal, they can look over a building and request that the owner make repairs, but it's rare, said Duke Johnson, Bloomington's building official.
The Florida collapse "scared the living heck out of everybody," Johnson said. "We're more worried about snow load and fire than we would be that type of collapse. That's why parking ramps are probably the most subject to salt and water here because of winter time."
Kevin MacDonald, president of Minnesota-based Beton Consulting Engineers, said he expects the Surfside collapse could lead to "a renewed effort" by local regulators tasked with monitoring the structural integrity of their tallest buildings.
"I would suspect that we would see some increased enforcement. I don't know that we need to change the rules," he said, adding that Minnesota's laws are relatively stringent to take the state's cold winters into account.
In Bloomington, the city is considering an ordinance change to require an annual engineering review of all parking ramps more than 10 years old. Other cities such as Minneapolis, St. Paul and Edina already have similar ordinances licensing commercial and residential multilevel parking ramps each year. The Mall of America does annual inspections of its parking ramps, Johnson said.
Most cities like Bloomington don't have structural engineers on staff, but St. Paul does. Ricardo Cervantes, St. Paul's director of Safety and Inspections, is eager to learn more about what happened in Florida. Then he'll decide whether the city needs to re-evaluate any of its own inspection programs, he said.
"Getting excited and trying to make changes without fully understanding what occurred may not be necessarily an improvement to the programs," Cervantes said.
Of the roughly 100 buildings St. Paul classifies as high-rises, about half are used for commercial purposes and inspected on one- to three-year cycles depending on the type of business they house. Every residential unit that's rented in the city — including those in condos — is inspected on a rotating schedule based on buildings' past compliance with code.
Apartments or houses with severe violations must get annual inspections, while the best-maintained properties are placed on a six-year schedule. The city can enforce compliance with criminal citations or condemn properties that require urgent fixes, said Angie Wiese, St. Paul's fire safety manager.
Many cities are dealing with a backlog of inspections that built up during the COVID-19 pandemic, she said. But even early in the pandemic, when much less was known about how the virus spreads, staff equipped with masks and lots of sanitizer were responding to complaints about buildings.
Still, after the Surfside collapse, "it's only good practice to do a gut check," Wiese added. "We're making sure we aren't that headline."
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141
Katie Galioto • 612-673-4478