Building safety concerns arise in Omaha after Florida condo collapse

Published: Jul. 20, 2021 at 9:12 AM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The massive condo collapse that killed 97 people in Surfside, Fla., last month has shaken people’s confidence in the safety of local buildings. In Omaha, some are even calling into the Planning and Development department for reassurance.

A top architect for the City of Omaha validated those concerns, saying that what happened in Florida was unprecedented — but she said it’s virtually impossible for that to happen here.

Anna Bespoyasny, assistant planning director and superintendent of permits and inspections for the City of Omaha, said there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for maintaining the structural integrity of buildings in the area.

The department adopts model codes from the International Code Council, but tailors them to our local geography and climate circumstances, along with detailed planning about the type of building.

A mixed-use building, versus a home, versus a storage facility, each requires vastly different attention to detail and inspection processes.

The Surfside, Fla., condo was surrounded by corrosive saltwater while buildings in Omaha are subject to harsh winds and even potential tornados — two vastly different types of natural damage.

As for how often Surfside buildings are inspected, it’s every 40 years; but in Omaha, “it’s up to the property owner or manager to ultimately maintain the property,” Bespoyasny said.

Apartments are checked every decade unless there’s a code violation, then — per the city’s rental inspection and registration ordinance — there’s an inspection once a year for two years until the issue is rectified.

But there are no proactive inspections for commercial properties unless there’s a complaint.

And before you gasp with fear, Bespoyasny contextualizes that with facts, explaining a tedious and detailed process in place before any building can go up.

A huge part of the process is the property maintenance code enforced by the city as stated above. It’s otherwise known as the ‘safety bible’ for all residential and municipal buildings.

To get anywhere near a permit, a property owner meets a committee of inspectors and must meet criteria from some or all of the following: and pass these several codes covering everything from size, exits, fire safety, construction material, HVAC, occupancy, paint and shingles, and much more.

  • International building code
  • International mechanical code
  • Omaha plumbing code
  • International energy conservation code

Bespoyasny said it’s highly unlikely that any building would just fall apart because the city updates its maintenance codes every few years.

The same should have happened in Florida.

“That’s why, in my opinion, everyone is so shocked by what’s happened. It doesn’t happen often,” she pointed out, referring to the deadly condo collapse.

Bespoyasny also said large-scale projects like a mall, office building or condominium, fall under what’s called “special inspections.” She said the intricate safety checks don’t happen after construction because they’re taking place during construction.

“There are companies that specialize in inspections specific to those types of construction and those are some of the’s experts that we rely on to help us navigate those projects,” said Bespoyasny, who went on to say “I wanna be able to go home and sleep soundly at night and I know a lot of people think we’re unreasonable when it comes to trying to hold people accountable, but lives are at stake.”

She explained the city does its best to work with property owners on issues that can range from minor to life-threatening. Sometimes in extreme weather or other extreme circumstances, solving an issue can take months.

But she also said if the communication and effort aren’t made by the owner in violation, things can and will escalate to citations, court, and ultimately demolition for the safety of the public.

Since commercial inspections are complaint-based, Besboyasny said they should be the first line of communication if someone notices a safety concern at a public building. For residential safety concerns in an apartment or home, the public should reach out to the landlord or the Omaha Housing Authority first.

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified a city employee as working for a county office. 6 News regrets the error.

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