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Grand jury report on Surfside condo collapse calls for immediate action

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Urgent and sweeping reforms - that's what a grand jury is calling for after investigating the deadly condo tower collapse in Surfside, Fla. It's been nearly six months since 98 people died in that disaster. NPR's Greg Allen has been digging into this report.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: The Miami-Dade County grand jury is one of several bodies investigating the partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South building in June. The state attorney for Miami-Dade County, Katherine Rundle, says the grand jury decided early on that it would not look at what caused the building to collapse.

KATHERINE RUNDLE: This is not a blame report or investigation, and that's because they are solely relying, as is everyone, on the findings by NIST.

ALLEN: That's the National Institute for Standards and Technology, a federal body that's been on site collecting data in an investigation that's expected to take years to complete. Instead, the grand jury decided to focus on measures to ensure buildings are designed, constructed and maintained in a way that keeps residents safe. One of its top recommendations is to improve the quality of inspections of aging condo buildings. Under current law in Miami-Dade County, condo buildings have to be recertified after they're 40 years old. The grand jury says inspections should begin much earlier, no more than 15 years after construction and done every 10 years after that. Rundle says doing that would be expensive, but it's necessary.

RUNDLE: You need to have better oversight. You're going to need to increase the number of inspectors, the quality of your inspectors. You need to have all of those inspections online. You should be transparent.

ALLEN: Another recommendation would require the state Legislature to rewrite part of Florida's condominium law. Under the current law, condo boards can waive a requirement that they maintain enough reserve funds to cover needed maintenance and repairs. Rundle agrees with the grand jury that loophole should be closed.

RUNDLE: To do regular maintenance and repairs should not be an option. You have a responsibility to everyone else in that building.

ALLEN: The grand jury has more than three dozen other recommendations - that condo boards upgrade their insurance coverage and that only licensed structural engineers be authorized to recertify aging buildings. There's precedent that suggests the recommendations will be taken seriously. A similar collapse in 1981 of a 50-year-old building in Miami led to the creation of the county's current 40-year recertification requirement. Some other jurisdictions in South Florida later followed suit. Miami-Dade County's Mayor Daniella Levine Cava welcomed the grand jury report and noted that it includes several proposals the county is already working on, including providing financial support to make repairs for those that need it. Notably, she didn't endorse the grand jury's top recommendation that recertifications be required for buildings that are just 15 years old.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

(SOUNDBITE OF GLORIES' "SLOW DAWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.