Palm Beach Town Council to Consider Tougher Inspection Program for Buildings After Surfside Disaster

Palm Beach may tighten inspection requirements to ensure high-rise buildings are safe in the wake of the Surfside condominium collapse. Zoning Director Wayne Bergman has drafted a building recertification proposal expected to come before the Town Council in January. Bergman outlined the draft in November at a building structure safety seminar co-sponsored by the Palm Beach Civic Association and Citizens’ Association of Palm Beach. About 50 people, primarily residential building managers or board members, attended the event at the South Fire Station. On June 24, the Champlain Towers South, a 12-story residential building in Miami’s Surfside neighborhood, partially collapsed, killing 98 people and injuring others. Bergman was part of a 40-member Palm Beach County task force formed to examine building safety measures after the Surfside disaster. But the county in October decided to hold off on creating its program to regularly inspect high-rise buildings, deferring instead to state lawmakers who will meet in January. Miami-Dade and Broward counties require examinations of buildings when they turn 40 years old. After that, it’s every 10 years. But Palm Beach County doesn’t. Bergman says that the City of Boca Raton is the only municipality in Palm Beach County that has adopted an inspection program in response to the Surfside disaster. Boca Raton is requiring high-rise buildings to be inspected at 30 years of age. Bergman, who is also the town’s building official, is proposing that Palm Beach implement a building safety inspection and recertification program for all “threshold” buildings after they have turned 25 years old. Threshold buildings would be defined as those greater than three stories or 50 feet in height. Bergman recommends the 25-year threshold for Palm Beach because of the proximity to the ocean environment. Saltwater intrusion degrades rebar, which is the steel bar or mesh used to reinforce concrete or masonry. He says that staffing would be needed to administer the program if the council approves the plan. The town would need to hire a structural engineer to assist with town reviews of the building safety reports. Ordinances would have to be amended to implement the program, establish fines for...

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Poll reveals opinions on high-rise inspections in Palm Beach County

A mandated reinspection program for aging condos and high-rises in Palm Beach County is an absolute necessity, a vast majority of county influencers surveyed by Palm Beach Poll agreed, and it might have the best chances of success in the hands of local governments.  The June 24 collapse of Champlain Towers South in the Miami-Dade County town of Surfside sparked a national reckoning by local governments over the need for timely inspection programs for aging buildings.  Five months later, the city of Boca Raton remains the only municipality in Palm Beach County to enact a reinspection program. Highland Beach is considering a similar program for its town. Reacting to the tragedy that killed 98 people, the Palm Beach County Commission enlisted the local municipal league to come up with countywide inspection rules.  Miami-Dade and Broward are the only two counties in Florida that require regular inspections of aging high rises. In light of the fatal condo collapse in Surfside, Fla., (Miami-Dade County) in August, do you think such a program in Palm Beach County is necessary? But in October, commissioners decided to delay any mandates and wait to see what the Florida state legislature comes up with within its session next year. The thinking was that new state rules would supersede local measures. “I don’t want our residents to think that if we take it slow in implementing a grandiose scheme for having reinspections and recertifications that we’re going to be doing anything to put their lives in jeopardy,” county Commissioner Robert Weinroth, who was named county mayor in November, said in October.   “I don’t want to see us put a system in place that is going to be so cumbersome that it’s going to miss the mark,” he said.  Weinroth’s district includes the county’s barrier islands from South Palm Beach to Boca Raton. Those communities have 300 condos that were built before 1990, according to research by The Coastal Star, a newspaper that covers those communities. But nearly 75 percent of the 297 influencers who participated in the November Palm Beach Power Poll, felt the county commission should have done...

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Vaccine Mandates in Condos? Peter Sachs Has the Answers

Peter S. Sachs, a Founding Partner and Chairman Emeritus of Sachs Sax Caplan P.L. answers questions regarding how vaccine mandates could potentially impact condo associations. “I live in a senior community. Can I ask employees of the community about their vaccination status? Obviously, we prefer to have vaccinated employees at work here, in the clubhouse, and elsewhere. Is it legal for us to ask or require this of the management company?”— Paul, Boynton Beach “Don’t take this upon yourself; speak to your management company. It would not be appropriate for a resident to inquire of an employee directly regarding vaccination status. It is a private matter. However, the board of the association or community may require the management company to certify that all of its employees on-site will be vaccinated as of a date certain as a matter of policy and contract between the association and the management company. The community at large may then rely upon the certification of their vendor, the management company.” “I have organized a luncheon for leaders of the hospitality industry at a hotel in Fort Lauderdale on Oct. 8. On the official invitation, I added a clause as follows: “COVID-19: For the safety of all attendees, vaccination cards will be required.” There will be no more than 52 attendees due to the capacity of the dining room in the hotel. By asking for vaccination cards, am I facing legal issues because of Gov. Ron DeSantis’s new law? Could the hotel be held liable in addition to myself?” — Ron Stevens, Boca Raton “You can’t ask people for their vaccination cards because of the new Florida law that prevents businesses, schools and government agencies from requiring people to show documentation certifying COVID-19 vaccinations before gaining entry. The only exception is health care facilities. If you require the vaccine card as a condition of entry, you run the risk of being fined $5,000, and the hotel also could face a penalty. The hotel may have exposure. The reader may want to have the event catered at a private home rather than involve the hotel, which likely would have concerns if it knew...

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Do Business Owners Have a Legal Obligation to Report COVID Cases? Peter Sachs Clarifies the Procedure

Q. “I’m a yoga teacher in South Florida. I found out that a student who had been in one of my classes came down with COVID-19. The student with COVID told the yoga studio owner, but the owner did not tell me or anyone who was in that class. Was there a legal obligation for the studio owner to share this information with me or the people in the class? I feel like we all should have been told so we would know to get tested.” — Concerned instructor   A. “There’s no legal requirement. It’s more of a moral responsibility,” said attorney Peter Sachs, a founding partner and chairman emeritus of the law firm Sachs Sax Caplan in Boca Raton. “The yoga studio owner has an obligation to maintain a safe environment for her customers,” Sachs said. “In my opinion, this responsibility would include an obligation to notify the other students in the class that one of the students (name should remain confidential) they participated in class with had come down with a contagious disease such as COVID-19. The yoga studio owner breached that duty by withholding this information either intentionally or negligently.” There might have been a legal remedy if the teacher contracted COVID-19 from the student in her class, Sachs said. “There is no remedy for simply not notifying her,” Sachs said. “Her option without anything else would be to stop doing business with that studio.”  Questions appeared in the Sun-Sentinel

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OSHA Issues Emergency Temporary Standard to Enhance Employee Protections From COVID

On November 4, 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) issued an Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”) aimed at protecting workers from coronavirus. OSHA indicates that this guidance will increase protections for more than 84 million private-sector workers. The ETS covers employers with 100 or more employees-firm or companywide- and provides options for compliance. So, this is likely to affect many Country Clubs, as Country Clubs often employ their own staff as opposed to hiring a staffing or management company. It may also impact large condominium or homeowners associations if they directly employ 100 or more people or if their management company does and the association has an indemnity obligation in the management agreement. The ETS, which is set to go into effect on November 5, 2021, requires covered employers to do the following: Survey the workforce and determine the vaccination status of each employee, which includes obtaining acceptable proof of vaccination status from those staff that is vaccinated.Create a protocol for testing for unvaccinated employees, which requires testing for COVID-19 to occur at least weekly.Require that employees who are not fully vaccinated to wear facial coverings when indoors or in a vehicle with another person.Require employees to provide prompt notice of a positive COVID-19 test, and immediately remove that employee from the workplace, regardless of vaccination status, until they meet certain negative testing criteria. In essence, the ETS requires all employees of covered employers to become fully vaccinated or else be required to submit to weekly testing. The ETS requires covered employers to provide paid leave for employees to get vaccinated (up to four hours) and an unspecified amount of paid sick leave for employees to recover from the side effects of the vaccine. The ETS does not require covered employers to pay for the vaccine itself. For those employees who choose not to be vaccinated but instead submit to weekly testing, the expense of testing is borne by the employee, not the employer. The ETS also does not apply to those employees who work exclusively outside, remotely from their homes, or in workplaces with no...

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Is Taking Legal Action a Remedy to Criticism From Unit Owners?

We often get phone calls from officers and board members of condominium and homeowners’ associations who feel they have been criticized unfairly by unit owners. Sometimes, they insist on taking legal action to put a stop to the most unfair or mean-spirited of the attacks. These calls are as varied as the condominium and homeowners’ associations in Florida. Sometimes the caller has an extremely serious concern; sometimes, not so much. The first discussion between and lawyer and a client in this situation is the possible application of defamation law to counterattack against the critic. Defamation includes two types of legal claims: Libel, for written defamation, and slander, for spoken defamation. In modern law, there is not much difference between the two except that one is spoken and one is written, but the terms linger in the law from its ancestry. Whether the words are actionable as a defamation depends on the words used and the context in which they are used. On this topic, my bookshelves are filled with multi-volume treatises, and in my practice, I cite to scores of Supreme Court decisions of thousands of pages. To be clear, in this blog, I am going to discuss only one tiny piece of this vast body of law. Pubic-spirited people who offer themselves up as volunteers to serve on community associations naturally tend to feel they are in the private sector and are not “politicians” or “officials.” True as that may be, it is also true that by stepping up to a leadership role in their community, they voluntarily submit to a certain amount of public scrutiny. At least, they do so to the limited extent of their control over matters of interest to the residents they serve, especially the collection and expenditure of the association’s money. They have surrendered some of their obscurity and anonymity and accepted a limited “public figure” status. They have given other people a constitutional right under the free speech clause of the First Amendment to criticize their performance publicly. Thus, to some extent, when it comes to defamation law, they are analogous to a local...

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