Long Beach residents and building owners are calling state officials asking if their coastal high-rises are safe following the collapse of a 10-story condo building in Surfside, Florida, last month that killed at least 36 people.
Residents and local officials are joining the call for the state to require more building inspections of aging oceanfront condo and apartment buildings on the Long Beach Boardwalk.
Residents said they face the same coastal elements of sea air, blowing sand and corrosive salt water at their apartment buildings along the city's boardwalk. There is no record of when buildings along the boardwalk were last inspected, officials said.
New York State code does not require structural building inspections. Long Island building inspectors conduct annual inspections to look for violations of fire codes, but many municipalities don't have inspectors who are trained to evaluate structural issues, officials said.
Building inspectors who find violations in Long Beach buildings, such as cracked concrete or falling bricks, can order building owners to hire a state-licensed engineer to file a report and plan for repairs.
"Would you want to get on an airplane that was never inspected? Of course not," Long Beach City Council president John Bendo said Tuesday. "It’s the same with buildings. Like anything, materials deteriorate over time. It’s a common-sense measure to have routine inspections."
Long Beach is the only area on Long Island with oceanfront high-rises. The city has about 43 high-rises between six and 10 stories tall, and Building Commissioner Scott Kemins estimated half those buildings had been rebuilt or undergone major renovations to maintain brick facades, balconies and structural integrity.
Boardwalk apartment and condo buildings have weathered hurricanes and, in some cases, 50 years of sea air, officials said.
What to know
Long Beach officials and state lawmakers call for more inspections of coastal high-rise buildings after the June 24 collapse of a condo building in Surfside, Florida.
About 43 buildings in Long Beach are six to 10 stories tall. All buildings undergo regular inspections for fire code violations, but no checks of a building's structural integrity is required, officials said.
Many Long Beach high rises have been rebuilt because of the toll salt water, sand and sea air takes on these structures, officials said.
"All our buildings get sandblasted every day between sand and the ocean breeze. All metals corrode, and every building goes through brick repairs and securing balconies. Half the buildings in Long Beach have been rebuilt," Kemins said.
"We need to be more proactive to prevent the tragedy in Florida from happening in New York State," he added.
Long Beach officials and state senators on Tuesday called for stricter building inspections of coastal high-rises to avert a collapse like what occurred in the Miami suburb on June 24.
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) joined with Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) and Sen. Roxanne Persaud (D-Brooklyn) to send a letter Tuesday asking the state Division of Building Standards and Codes to require building owners to conduct regular inspections of aging coastal high-rises in Long Beach, Coney Island and the Rockaways.
"What happened there has made us ask the questions, how much do we know about the structural integrity of our buildings here? In many cases, the honest answer is we don't know," Kaminsky said. "After looking at that tragedy, it’s time we change the law so that we know which buildings are safe and have integrity, which need work and which are frankly dangerous."
NYC building codes require
Structural review of the exterior of the building once every five years.
Inspection of retaining walls 10 feet or more in height facing public rights of way once every five years.
About 16,000 buildings citywide are required to hire a registered design professional and conduct these required inspections once every five years.
The New York Department of State, which oversees the Division of Building Standards and Codes, said it has been reviewing building codes since the Florida collapse.
"We are reviewing the senator’s letter and will also carefully review the final investigative report regarding the building collapse in Miami to examine whether any changes may be warranted in New York State to prevent a similar tragedy from happening here, and to help keep New Yorkers safe," state officials said in a statement.
State officials said local governments are responsible for enforcing state code, including building permits, construction inspections, fire safety and property maintenance inspections.
New York City has stricter building codes that require an exterior facade and retaining wall inspection every five years for about 16,000 buildings.
Buildings undergoing renovations
Several buildings along the boardwalk are undergoing major renovations and, in some cases, officials said, disasters were narrowly averted.
In 2016, five balconies collapsed onto units at the Sunlit Terrace Apartments on Shore Road, across the street from the boardwalk. Officials said the corrosive sea air destroyed the metal ties and caused the balconies to crumble.
No one was hurt, but the building was evacuated. Officials said the balconies collapsed because they were added two years after construction of the 1949 apartment building. The landlord was cited for an unsafe structure and ordered to remove 18 oceanview terraces, officials said.
Long Beach had to evacuate a building in 2010 after a six-story building on the boardwalk was found to have bad deterioration in one of four columns. The building was closed and repaired using a steel foundation.
Jordan Ruzz, a private engineer who has inspected buildings in Long Island for 30 years, said some steel on building balconies "looked like Swiss cheese."
He said at Lido Beach Towers, which was evacuated after Superstorm Sandy, the building was on the verge of being condemned after major structural issues were found in a crawl space.
A lot of structural damage on buildings may not be detected, unless there’s a reason to look for a weakness, Ruzz said. Visible cracks are signs of poor condition that can be found during inspections, he said.
"In 30 years working on this boardwalk, I’ve seen a handful of rather frightening things. What makes them more frightening than the sheer results, if they’re not addressed, is that each one of them was discovered accidentally," Ruzz said. "When salt gets on steel, it rusts. When steel rusts, it expands. It’s even worse encased in concrete. The steel weakens, the concrete cracks and a lot of strength is lost. The cracks are the giveaway."
City officials recommended any building without a recent structural review seek an outside engineer for an inspection.
Condo residents spent $5.5M on upgrades
At the Sandcastles condos on Broadway, condo residents agreed to share the cost of a $5.5 million improvement to fix the brick facade.
Condo board president Barbara Way said the six-story 1985 building with 75 units was secure, but an architect and engineer hired by the condo board said the building’s exterior brick covering was in danger of falling.
Although the Florida collapse drew her concern, she feels safe in her building, she said.
"The thought crossed my mind, but we’re under an architect’s care and I feel like we’re in good hands," Way said. "We’re working with contractors, and this job is going to put the building back in really good shape. It was getting to a point we had to get done."
Patricia Manganaro said she moved to Long Beach years ago for the views and tranquility. Although she feels safe in her building, she is considering selling the co-op in her nine-story building after the recent collapse in Florida and Superstorm Sandy, she said.
"The thought runs through my head, given the coverage of that story. I would hope these buildings are checked as a result of what happened," she said. "I couldn’t believe it, and it was so frightening. But there are so many buildings in New York City, this is not the only area to worry about. There’s constant maintenance. You see it all the time. I live with it [construction] daily."