Demystifying the 40-Year Certification Process: When, Why, Who and What’s Involved

In both Miami-Dade and Broward counties, some buildings are required to undergo a safety certification every 10 years, beginning 40 years after the building is completed. Miami-Dade County began requiring these safety inspections in the late 1970s; Broward followed suit in 2006. The process can be complicated and can have significant financial impact on your association. What’s involved with a 40-year certification? What kind of buildings are required to have one? Read on to answer the most pressing questions about this important safety measure.

1. What kind of properties need to go through a 40-year certification?

That varies between the two counties. In Miami-Dade County, all buildings more than 2,000 square feet in size must be certified. Duplexes and single-family homes are exempt. In Broward County, the process is required for buildings of more than 3,500 square feet. Broward County exempts single-family homes, duplexes, public schools, state and federal buildings and anything built on an Indian Reservation. That means all residential high-rises and townhome complexes are required to have their buildings certified for safety at the 40-year mark and every 10 years after that.

2. What does the inspection include?

The 40-year certification is about ensuring safety. A qualified engineer or architect will examine your structural and electrical systems. It is not about code compliance, although Miami-Dade County does require that parking garage or parking area lighting meets current code. But the understanding is that buildings of a certain age may have existing features that don’t satisfy current building code but are still structurally sound. Building codes evolve over time and not all aspects of every building need to be updated with them to be safe for residents and visitors.

The inspection is mostly visual and includes accessible systems. If the engineer or architect determines that it’s needed, some destructive investigation, such as removing a section of wallboard, may be undertaken. The inspection includes the entire property.  That means cabanas, gazebos, seawalls, docks, gate houses, pool decks and other ancillary structures will be inspected. Some general areas of inspection include foundation, roofing system, masonry bearing walls, steel and wood framing, windows, electric service and emergency lighting.

Individual units in the building will be inspected. It’s up to the professional conducting the inspection to determine what percentage of units need to be examined to get a good measure of the overall building’s safety. The numbers generally average between 20 and 50% of units to make that estimation.

Each subsequent 10-year inspection covers the same items as at the 40-year one.

3. Who is involved?

The municipality in which the building is located will send a notice that it’s time for a certification. Then the owner of the building, meaning the condo association or HOA, will hire an engineering or architectural firm to conduct the needed inspections. That professional will submit reports back to the municipality.

4. What’s the timeline for the process?

Your association has 90 days from receipt of notice for the professional you choose to submit their reports as required. Having a professional property management company on your side can be helpful when it comes time to hire an engineer or architect. Their teams should have a list of qualified professionals/vendors to recommend for your needs, including architects and engineers. Once the report is submitted, your association has 180 days to show progress on the work deemed necessary by the inspection professional.

Although the statutory language says work must be completed in that 180 days, Sinisa Kolar, P.E., executive vice president and head of engineering and restoration at The Falcon Group, says that the municipalities understand the time it takes to complete major work and they want to see “an effort in you moving along with your project and they’ll give you an extension.”  Kolar notes that it’s important to understand that any extension is at the discretion of the municipality, and while they are understanding, they are also under no obligation to grant one.

5. How can my association prepare for the 40-year certification?  

Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.” In this case, prevention means preventive maintenance.  

“I cannot stress enough that preventive maintenance and getting a handle on things as they happen, leading up to the 40-year certification, is critical,” says Doug Weinstein, vice president of operations at AKAM.  “You can’t leave things to year 39, day 360 and expect the certification process to go well.”

Kolar adds, “The day you occupy the property, maintenance becomes key. If you maintain your property, the 40-year certification is paperwork. But if you neglect the property, you’re looking at an expensive and lengthy process with a lot of aggravation.”

Weinstein notes that seemingly small items can lead to potential hazards, so it’s important to stay on top of maintenance throughout your building’s lifespan. “Don’t let yourselves be surprised with a bad 40-year report and the costs associated with repairs,” he says. A professional property management partner will have the experience and staff trained to work with your Board to create a preventive maintenance plan that will help make all your inspections go more smoothly.

A year or two before the 40-year mark, your Board can hire an engineer or architect to do a “pre-inspection,” letting you know about – and have time to correct – any issues that might cause a bad report when the time comes.

Lisa Magill, Esq., a board-certified specialist in condominium and planned development law at Kaye Bender Rembaum, recommends that Boards and their counsel also review their governing documents in preparation for the inspection process. “Do you have authority to enter units as needed? What do you need to make that happen? If your building is 40 years old, it’s possible your documents are as well and may need to be updated,” she says. “Check to see if there are impediments to obtaining funds for various projects. Can you modify the documents to give the Board a little flexibility when it comes to making changes or alterations? If you have an owner who is unwilling or unable to fulfill their obligations, how are you going to address that?”

The 40-year certification process and its 10-year follow ups are paramount to the safety of your building and residents. Having a good property management firm on your side will make it easier to manage.

To learn more about the 40-year inspection process and how you can prepare for it, we invite you to watch our webinar.

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