Following the recent building collapse that killed at least 97 people in Surfside, Florida, a Charleston state representative is calling for municipalities on South Carolina’s coast to reexamine how they inspect high-rise buildings.
“We’re putting these big heavy buildings on marshlands,” said Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston. “We better get back to the drawing board and rethink this because we don’t want to put lives in jeopardy.”
Gilliard plans to file a bill for next year’s legislative session that would create a committee of experts to study how buildings with 6 stories or more are inspected along the coast and draft a set of recommendations.
South Carolina’s current building code regulations do not require any additional inspections once construction has been completed unless someone files a complaint or raises questions about the safety of a building.
Local governments have the power to enact additional regulations, but many do not.
Representatives from Charleston County, Horry County, the City of Myrtle Beach and The Town of Hilton Head all said they abide by the state’s guidelines for building inspections. The City of Charleston did not return requests for comment.
Mark Kruea, spokesman for Myrtle Beach, said what happened in Florida was “rare,” and that officials there ignored serious red flags that should have tipped them off to structural issues.
“City staff responds quickly to any reports of problems, whether we see the issue ourselves or receive a report or inquiry from the public,” he said. “Buildings could/should be deemed uninhabitable if structural deficiencies are noted.”
Other municipalities said the Surfside building collapse has prompted them to take action.
Carolyn Grant, spokeswoman for Hilton Head, said the town is contacting commercial property owners and asking them to consider additional safety measures. One recommendation is to schedule routine life, safety and structural integrity inspections at least every ten years.
Hakkim Bayyoud, director of building inspections for Charleston County, said his department is drafting a similar memo to send to property owners. He said the county is reviewing its own inspection procedures, and county officials hope to collaborate with other local governments in the Lowcountry to come up with a uniform set of rules.
One option they are considering is requiring inspections every 3, 5, or ten years.
Gilliard said he believes coastal buildings are at a particular risk since many are already vulnerable to flooding.
“Some of the engineers down in Florida said that years of decay from flooding and saltwater may have contributed to the collapse so that definitely rang a bell,” he said. “We have the warning signs, it’s up to us if we want to listen.”