Champlain Towers Tragedy
On June 23, 2021, residents of Champlain Towers South retired to bed for the night after a typical Wednesday. By 2 a.m., at least ten of them would be dead, and over one hundred and fifty would be missing.
It was a sleepless night for those in surrounding apartments and condominiums as they watched first responders rush to the scene of the once 12-story beachfront building.
The following morning, the world watched on live television as responders searched through the rubble in an attempt to find both the survivors and the bodies. Miami-Dade County declared a Level 5 Mass Casualty Event, which prompted emergency responders to pour in from other counties to assist.
People Are Looking for Answers
Authorities are unsure how many people were in the building at the time of the collapse. There is hope that many who rent condominiums only for the winter (also known as “snowbirds”) may have been out of town. However, it appears that many families were full-time residents and would have likely been home in the middle of the night.
Haunting pictures of a bunk bed lying collapsed among the rubble flooded the media. Throughout the following day, stories of people looking for their family members began to fill up forums and social media.
The question on everybody’s mind is: how could this have happened? Speculation ran rampant through interviews, press conferences, and online forums. Champlain Towers was built in the 1980s, so the building was not old. It was actually undergoing its first 40-year recertification inspection.
In an interview with WPTV, Kast Construction Vice President Jim Rhinehart speculated that the steel that reinforced the concrete building may have been exposed to corrosive elements specific to seaside structures. The salt and the chloride could have degraded any exposed steel, rendering it useless.
If Rhinehart’s theory is true, the corrosion would have been discovered during the 40-year recertification inspection. If the inspection had occurred even a few months earlier, the building could have been evacuated, but sadly timing was not on anyone’s side.
Florida is not unfamiliar with large-scale disasters and is home to occasional wildfires, hurricanes, floods, and storms. There are countless reasons why Florida is the perfect place to buy real estate. However, with great reward can also come some risk, and those who live in and own properties in Florida must be aware of their responsibilities.
It is vital for property owners to prepare for both natural disasters and the tragedies that nobody could have imagined.
At the time this article is being written, over 150 people are still missing and unaccounted for. These are both owners and tenants who have not been heard from since the building collapsed.
The building had 136 units, and about 55 were completely demolished. The fire department and Red Cross are asking for anyone who lives in the building to contact them immediately so they can confirm that they are alive (305-614-1819). Until those lives are accounted for, rescuers will put their own lives at risk, and valuable resources will be utilized.
In an interview with Julia Bagg from WFLA, landlord Willie Gomez explained that he was renting to a woman on the sixth floor, and he has been trying to get ahold of her to no avail. The investors who rent to the inhabitants of the Champlain Towers building must now attempt to contact their tenants and, in worst-case scenarios, reach out to their emergency contacts with the unfortunate news.
How Landlords and Tenants Can Do Their Part in an Emergency
When someone decides they want to be a landlord, they usually do their research on their legal responsibilities. They research their insurance options and educate themselves on their rights and responsibilities as homeowners.
It is important to remember that even when a landlord may not be legally obligated to think protectively about their tenants, it is often in their financial best interest to do so.
Keeping emergency contact numbers for tenants and requiring renters insurance are two ways that a landlord can be proactive about their tenants’ welfare. Renters insurance can alleviate the risk of a lawsuit over any potential property damage and keeping contact numbers of your renters’ closest family members can lessen the burden on you in a tragedy.
Tenants also have responsibilities in a disaster. Tenants must notify the property owner or property management company as soon as possible about any damage to the property. Tenants bear the responsibility of communicating concerns and keeping the property in safe and clean condition. When a property is kept in good shape and a positive relationship is maintained between landlord and tenant, both parties can focus on working together in a crisis.
In this tragedy, stories are coming out about how many of the building’s residents have reported structural issues. A 2018 engineering report said that the oceanfront condominium building had “major structural damage” to a concrete structural slab below its pool deck that needed extensive repairs.
Other previous residents complained about the building’s disrepair for year, and the building association did nothing. If your tenants are complaining, you need to listen and validate their reports. Take action if needed.
The Search for Survivors Continues
The first lawsuit in this tragedy has already been filed. The suit seeks $5 million in damages “due to Defendant’s acts and omissions and their failure to properly protect the lives and property of Plaintiff and Class members.”
It is always a good idea to have an emergency plan in place for your family. Discuss with your children where to meet and who to contact in an emergency. Plan for a scenario in which there is no phone service. If possible, keep an emergency bag and first aid kit.
Sadly, in this case, it is unlikely any of these preventative measures would have helped. The search for survivors continues. The world now waits for answers on how this happened, if only so it can be prevented from happening again.