NJ Proposed Law Aims to Fill ‘Gap’ in Structural Inspection of Buildings
Triggered by the deadly collapse of a condominium complex in another state one year ago, lawmakers in New Jersey are looking to advance legislation that would step up the inspection protocol here for multifamily housing structures going forward.
Legislators suggest New Jersey's building code is among the strictest in the nation. However, they say, a focus on the structural integrity of multifamily dwellings, similar to Champlain Towers in Surfside, Florida, appears to be lacking.
"We're trying to fill in that gap, give folks peace of mind," Sen. Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, told New Jersey 101.5.
Singleton's bill aims to add to the state's construction code a requirement that certain buildings, and the plans for those buildings, be reviewed by a structural inspector pre-construction, during the build, and post-construction.
Specifically, the expert would be tasked with confirming that the primary load bearing system for a building matches its plans. A certificate of occupancy would not be issued unless that confirmation is made, and until other structural issues noted in the expert's report are addressed.
Currently, the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs conducts certain building inspections on a cyclical cycle. But, the bill notes, those inspections are focused on maintenance issues and habitability concerns — heating, infestation, and lead hazards, for example. In addition, the inspections are not required to be be conducted by an engineer or other expert.
As part of the proposed law, housing associations would be required to conduct a capital reserve study, through an expert, to ensure there would be adequate funds to address structural integrity issues down the line. Further, the association would have to create and fund a plan to ensure that they wouldn't have to turn to a loan obligation or special assessment to take on these critical repairs.
The measure also requires that developers prepare a document setting up a schedule for preventative maintenance tasks, such as periodic inspections of the structural components of the buildings or common areas.
"I thought that we could take a more proactive stance to guard against something happening," Singleton said.
A true cause of the Surfside condo collapse remains under investigation, but multiple reports have pointed to major structural issues.
A measure introduced last fall by Sen. Samuel Thompson, R-Middlesex, would have required inspections every five years for buildings 40 years and older. The measure did not advance beyond introduction.
Singleton's bill has been referred to the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee, which he chairs. An Assembly version of the bill was introduced on June 27 by Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez, D-Middlesex.