Lawmaker expresses urgency in push to pass bill after Sea Isle City balcony collapse
State Sen. Troy Singleton is using the fatal balcony collapse in Sea Isle City last month to increase calls for fellow legislators to pass a bill that would require further scrutiny of the structural integrity of multifamily dwellings.
The legislation was developed following a 2021 condominium collapse in Surfside, Florida, that killed a dozen people.
Singleton’s new push for the bill to pass comes about one month after a concrete balcony at the Spinnaker Condominiums’ South Tower dropped onto a worker below, crushing him to death.
The Burlington County senator said his bill would address concerns about structure safety by requiring deeper building inspections, increasing the inspection frequency of multistory buildings and extending the scope of building exams under New Jersey’s Uniform Construction Code.
“The loss of life in Sea Isle was again a new and fresh reminder of how important it is to give folks peace of mind that these buildings they live in are structurally sound,” Singleton said.
Jose Pereira, 43, of Philadelphia, who was working for Ferguson Contracting Inc. of Yardley, Pennsylvania, was pronounced dead Feb. 24, several hours after the eighth-floor balcony’s concrete slab fell on him.
Two other workers sustained minor injuries and were treated on scene.
The state Bureau of Housing Inspection has performed inspections on the South Tower, last doing so in April 2022. No open violations exist from that inspection. Before that, it was last inspected in April 2017 under a five-year cyclical inspection requirement, spokesperson Lisa Ryan said.
Under Singleton’s bill, surveyors would assess a building’s strength, adding onto the Uniform Construction Code.
Sea Isle Mayor Leonard Desiderio said Wednesday he hadn’t heard of the bill, but expressed support for any measure that would make the state safer.
“If it helps ensure properties will be inspected and could save any type of injuries or a life, of course we’d want to look at it and move forward with it,” Desiderio said.
Sea Isle records show Ferguson was cited for a lack of permitting and ordered to terminate the work to the building’s exterior three days after the collapse.
Hours after the collapse, a stop-work order was issued to prevent the workers from continuing their project.
City officials have not yet seen a report as to why the balcony collapsed, Desiderio said.
An engineering report issued last week said the South Tower is still stable after the collapse, and that the opposite side’s balconies can be used for their intended purpose, so long as they undergo needed maintenance recommended by a surveyor.
The South Tower has since reopened, but parts of it remain uninhabitable while an investigation into the collapse continues, city Construction Official Cornelius “Neil” Byrne said Friday.
Buildings in other Jersey Shore towns have, in recent years, also been faced with concerns over high-rise balconies.
Last year, the 34-story Ocean Club Condominiums in Atlantic City made its balconies off limits to tenants after an engineering firm found loose concrete and damage to railings on them.
No other structural concerns like those at Ocean Club have been brought to the city’s attention since, spokesperson Andrew Kramer said.
Singleton’s bill has been with the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee since September. An Assembly version was introduced and referred to the Assembly Housing Committee in June.
The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee met Friday and Monday, but no hearings were scheduled for the bill.
Locally, Sen. Michael Testa, R-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, is also a committee member. Testa was contacted for comment but wanted to review the bill’s language before doing so.
Singleton attributes the lack of movement to parts of the bill being worked out by lawmakers and stakeholders.
“The bill, unfortunately, was not able to guarder bipartisan support when it passed its first committee last June,” Singleton said. “We anticipate, with some of the work that’s being undertaken to address outstanding concerns, that we may get closer to a position to be able to do that.”
Both state and local code enforcement agencies would see “indeterminate” cost and revenue increases associated with the bill, a report from the state Office of Legislative Services says. That revenue would be offset by a fee to be paid by a building owner applying for construction permits, the report states.
The OLS noted the bill does not provide for cost-offsetting measures for post-occupancy inspections. It does, however, “provide that post-occupancy inspections can be conducted in conjunction with other required inspections, such as those inspections required pursuant to the Hotel and Multiple Dwelling Law, which may result in costs to the Bureau of Housing Inspection in the Department of Community Affairs and local code enforcing agencies that are lower than would otherwise be expected.”