Wood, Smith, Henning & Berman LLP
United States: Virtual building inspections: time saving or liability trap?
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COVID-19 has opened the door to virtual building inspections in Florida. The pandemic has caused a backlog of requests for inspections and lawmakers hope to streamline the inspection process to help building officials catch up. In a new bill that came into effect on July 1 of this year, SB 1382 requires building authorities to allow inspection requests to be submitted electronically and allows building authorities to perform most inspections. remote buildings. While each jurisdiction may still differ slightly, this new option allows building officials to move forward with safeguarding. While increasing difficulties can be expected as building authorities and stakeholders adapt to new systems, electronic inspection requests and virtual inspections will help promote a faster and more efficient process. efficient obtaining of inspections and building permits.
Under Florida law, developers and contractors are generally liable for construction defects according to various theories of liability. Many developers and contractors rely on building inspections to ensure code compliance. This confidence, however, is misplaced. This is not a review of the different building authorities. Instead, code violations are neither excused nor approved simply because the building has passed inspection under Florida law. A building owner remains free to take legal action against a contractor and developer for construction defects and code violations even if the building has passed the inspection.
While inspections remain an important part of ensuring public safety, it’s also important to note that Florida law does not impose liability on building authorities for careless building code enforcement and inspections. Additionally, with the potential availability of virtual inspections, stakeholders should be aware of the potential increase in the risk of error by the home inspector due to the need to adapt and develop new procedures during the process. transition period, technological limitations and other challenges associated with a virtual inspection. inspection. Because of these concerns, developers and contractors should consider implementing quality control procedures for risk mitigation.
Developers of specialized software or applications can also be the target of legal action. The main investigation will focus on whether there was a known limitation in the software that impaired the inspector’s ability to perform a thorough inspection. The applicant may need to prove that the software developers were negligent in designing the software, or in providing it to build services without warning of the limitations or flaws in the software system.
Limitations of virtual inspections
Although most inspections can now be performed virtually, building authorities are not permitted to perform structural inspections for buildings over three stories, 50 feet in height, or having an overall occupancy classification exceeding 5,000 square feet and a maximum occupancy of over 500 people. A traditional in-person structural inspection is required for buildings falling into this category.
The availability of virtual inspections is also at the discretion of the competent building authority. It is not known how quickly each jurisdiction will adopt virtual inspections and whether they will impose individual limitations on type inspections that can be performed remotely.
Key points to remember:
- Building permits and inspections for most buildings can now be submitted online via email, an online form and potentially apps for mobile devices.
- Virtual inspections may not be performed for structural inspections for the threshold building.
- Building departments and managers as well as software developers can potentially be responsible for faulty inspections caused by the use of visual inspections.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide on the subject. Specialist advice should be sought regarding your particular situation.
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