Let’s Heed The Wake-Up Call In The Collapse Of Surfside's Condo Tower - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Kenneth Kasdan

Kenneth Kasdan is an attorney with offices in Hawaii, California, Arizona and New Mexico. He practices construction law, representing associations and building owners.

The collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside, Florida, was a tragedy. Let’s not allow it to happen here.

We are an island state, understood to be one of the most remote places on earth, surrounded by 2,500 miles of open ocean on all sides. We have a tropical, hot and humid climate — one that we all appreciate, but one that provides exposure to ocean air and the chlorides present in salt water.

These chlorides are everywhere and have even been found 30 stories up in high-rise towers. They can cause corrosion of virtually all metals.

Our soil is often referred to as coralline soil, a mixture of sand and broken-up coral from the coral reefs fringing our islands. These soils are highly corrosive.

Many builders have been oblivious to such and have even made matters worse by crushing or breaking up giant coral blocks to become the base around the foundation of homes. It is no wonder that thousands of houses in Ewa Beach have experienced corrosion and deterioration of the hurricane straps designed to hold the houses down in a storm.

It is well understood in the scientific community — and hopefully soon in the construction community — that while concrete is the most widely used building material in the world, its properties must be considered.

A denser, more durable concrete mix can be designed, and rebar and structural steel can be protected by more cover or by a thicker layer of concrete — and thus the steel protected and the integrity of the building preserved.

We need to pay attention to design. We need to pay attention to see that proper materials are selected and that they are properly installed. We need to add the critical measure of inspection.

Aerial photograph of Ala Wai Yacht Harbor and Waikiki.
Hawaii, including the south shore of Oahu seen here, is home to hundreds of aging high-rise buildings. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Our buildings can be protected from the devastating effects of corrosion by competent and regular inspections, followed by timely and proper repairs monitored by our building department.

On Oahu, we call that department the Department of Planning and Permitting. Many other states call it the Department of Building and Safety. Let’s put “safety” in the job description, if not in its name.

The department can perform inspections, and it can require any unsafe building to be repaired and corrected or red-tagged if deemed unsafe for occupancy.

Building managers cannot just assume that because we are on an island, corrosion is inevitable. Corrosion can be controlled. Periodic inspections can and should be performed by licensed and experienced engineers.

Knowledgeable inspectors know what to look for and how to test. They can often spot early signs of damage, and once damage is identified can perform testing and then implement a preventive repair.

Building associations should implement a plan of periodic inspections and never accept delay.

Surfside identified a problem in 2018, and by 2021 had done nothing but started a roof repair. While association boards are made up of lay volunteers, buildings are almost always managed by professional property managers. There are many firms here in the islands that have experienced managers who can guide a board.

Let’s head this off at the pass and require builders to construct buildings properly with an objective of quality, durable construction. Let’s inspect those buildings which are still in the 10-year statute of limitations and hold builders accountable to pay for repair of the defects before there is catastrophic loss of life. Collapse is not inevitable if everyone involved acts responsibly.

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About the Author

Kenneth Kasdan

Kenneth Kasdan is an attorney with offices in Hawaii, California, Arizona and New Mexico. He practices construction law, representing associations and building owners.

Latest Comments (0)

Let’s not fool ourselves. In Hawaii, those so-called "professional property managers" mentioned in the commentary are not required to have any experience, educational requirement, or license to be a property manager. Check with the DCCA: only one individual in each management company is required to be licensed, that license being a real estate broker’s license so that they can handle rental properties. That means only one person is statutorily accountable in each of these property management companies, some of which boast of managing up to 600 associations. In those companies, each property manager may handle up to 12 associations and each association may be home to hundreds and maybe thousands of lives and each association may be valued up to hundreds of million of dollars.Do not expect these so-called professional property managers to be dependable safeguards for lay volunteers and their associations of owners and residents until more education and qualified licensure is required of each of these property managers. Until then, confidence in those "professionals" may be as unreliable as building a high rise condo on limestone.

COCO · 2 years ago

Circa 1990, I had a conversation with a prominent local architect who designed highrise apartment buildings.  He told me that the design life expectancy of buildings was 20 to 30 years.  I was shocked by this number.  I asked him if he expected buildings to be torn down and rebuilt every 30 or 40 years and he said yes.  I stated that buildings should be designed to last 100 years.  He said it would easily cost 5 times as much to build with a 100 year life expectancy.

Thrasybulus_of_Athens · 2 years ago

How about we first determine what led to the collapse of the Surfside building before having a knee-jerk reaction?

CATipton · 2 years ago

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