Florida Surfside Building Was Subject of 2015 Lawsuit Alleging Failure to Maintain Wall

Newly released court documents revealed that one resident of the Surfside, Florida, building that collapsed early Thursday had filed a lawsuit in 2015 against Champlain Towers South Condominium Association Inc., stating that the building's owners were improperly maintaining the outer walls.

The building suffered a partial collapse Thursday that resulted in at least four confirmed deaths and 159 people missing.

In 2014, resident Matilde Fainstein reportedly had water seeping through cracks in the outer wall, doing damage to her outside terrace. The complaint said she had filed a separate suit against the building then, and the issue was litigated and the owners found liable.

Insider reported that she filed for damages again a year later, claiming that the owners of the building "failed to repair or negligently repaired the common elements and the outside walls of the building."

It is unclear whether this information could have contributed to the building's partial collapse, but according to a Florida International University 2020 study, the building was found to have begun sinking in the 1990s.

While land subsidence is not in and of itself the reason for the collapse, the study's author, Shimon Wdowinski, said that it is still "worth checking why it happens."

The Miami Herald reported that buildings in Miami have to be recertified by a county inspection once they are 40 years old. The Champlain Condominium, built 39 years ago, had been undergoing that inspection, but the Herald reported that no official report had been filed.

According to The Miami Herald, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told reporters after the collapse, "The bottom line is that's not an old building, and 40-year inspection or not, that kind of thing should not be happening."

The first post-disaster lawsuit against the building's owners was filed late Thursday night. The suit said, "according to public statements made by Defendant's attorney Ken Direktor, 'repair needs had been identified with regard to certain structural issues but had not been implemented."

"One of the most breathtakingly frightening tragedies in the history of South Florida followed," the lawsuit added.

Greg Batista, an engineer, told The Miami Herald that he believed it was possible the building had been a victim of concrete spalling, a reaction to saltwater that causes rust to expand and break up the concrete.

"This building has a garage on the lower floors. If you have one column subjected to spalling, the No. 1 suspect here, it could fail. That one beam could bring down the whole building like a domino effect."

The Miami Herald also said complaints had been made prior to the collapse, as construction next door had reportedly been shaking the Surfside tower, and water was allegedly leaking from a second-floor pool deck into the parking garage below.

Newsweek reached out to representatives of the Champlain Towers South for comment but did not hear back in time for publication.

Residential Building In Miami Partially Collapsed
SURFSIDE, FLORIDA - JUNE 24: People look at a portion of the 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building that partially collapsed on June 24, 2021 in Surfside, Florida. A new report showed that the building had been sued in 2015 for safety hazards and complaints about water leaks. Joe Raedle/Getty Images