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Structural Audit: Prevention is better than cure

Friday, April 21, 2017

Monsoon is just a couple of months away. It is the season when instances of building collapses are on the rise. Ramesh S. Prabhu explains why it is better to conduct a structural audit of your building now, and thus avoid possible regrets later

With every passing year, your building combats a series of natural upheavals, facing the apathy of every season that goes by. Many buildings built during last 20 to 30 years in Mumbai are in severe structural distress. Leakages are a common sight during monsoons. To add to this, we keep hearing of sporadic incidents of building collapse, which have resulted in irreparable loses at times, both of men and material. And that’s when the concept of ‘structural audit’ became known and it was soon made mandatory to be followed.

What is structural audit?
Structural audit is an important technique to understand the condition / distress level of any existing building / structure. The structural audit report must highlight and investigate all the critical areas which demand immediate attention. It is mandatory as per municipal authorities. Step-by-step procedures are in place to carry out structural audit of building structures and method for its repair and restoration. The evaluation and interpretation of test data is explained systematically in detail, which helps the structural auditor to arrive at the level of distress in structure thereof.

There are mandatory government regulations on structural audit to have healthy structure of the building. The owner/occupants of the buildings or the cooperative housing society, in Greater Mumbai Limit as per the provision of section 353B of the MMC Act 1888 are required to carry out the structural audit. It is obligatory on the part of every owner and occupier of buildings which are in existence and in use for more than 30 years to have them inspected through qualified structural engineer registered with Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai.

The said period of 30 years shall be from the date of (i) issue of its completion certificate by the Corporation, or (ii) issue of permission to occupy a building under section 353A; or (iii) its physical occupation of at least 50 percent of its built-up area, whichever is earlier. As per section 353B of the MMC Act, 1888, it is also mandatory to get the repair work as suggested by the qualified structural engineer and submit the Completion Certificate along with the structural fitness certificate to MCGM. All the owners/occupiers or the managing committee of cooperative housing society of the building shall cause such building to be examined by such structural engineer and to submit the Structural Stability Certificate to the Assistant Commissioner of the respective wards within a period of 30 days on the completion of every three years for the building which are more than 30 years old.

After the structural audit is carried out, if the Structural Engineer recommends any corrective repairs for securing Structural Stability of the building such corrective repairs shall be carried out by the owner/occupier of the building to the satisfaction of the Commissioner within a period as suggested by Structural Engineer in his report not exceeding six months failing which action as per due procedure will be taken.

Permissions required for the structural audit
There are no specific permission required to carry out the structural audit. The cooperative housing society bye-laws provide for carrying out the structural audit of the buildings aged above 15 years to carry out the structural audit once in 5 years and carry out the required repairs as suggested in the structural audit report. Similarly, after 30 years to carry out the audit once in every three years and comply with the suggestions and recommendation made in the structural audit report.  

The general body of the society needs to approve any expenses exceeding Rs.1,00,000/- for carrying out the repairs and also follow the directions issued by the Cooperative Department of Government of Maharashtra under section 79A of the Maharashtra Cooperative Societies Act, 1960. As per this direction, the general body need to appoint a Project Management Consultant, invite the tenders and then carry out the repairs by getting the same approved in the General body meeting. It is extremely important for the committee and the owners to undertake timely diagnosis and carry out the required repairs as early as possible. If required, the society may take the loan from the banks and carry out the required repairs as early as possible.

A major reason for collapse of a building is not undertaking timely actions like regular painting and inspecting every flat at least once in six months to identify the leakage and stops such leakages by applying various waterproofing techniques. Postpone the decision till the building is declared as dilapidated. The option of going for redevelopment even when the same is not viable and expecting the government to provide additional incentives. Another common thing seen in people is going for low quality and cheap material. Regular repairs and renovation and shifting of kitchen, toilets, etc within the flat without having proper drainage pipe also make building structure weak. The most important reason is no one wants to own the responsibility and take necessary measure.

If proper preventative maintenance is undertaken, the building can survive at least 60 to 70 years life as against the life of 80 to 90 expected. It is seen that any building nearing 30 years needs to go for redevelopment as the cost of the repairs is beyond their budget. The filling of cracks, carrying out the outer painting or water proof treatment on the terrace and outer of the buildings once in 3 to 5 years shall increase the life of the building. Any repairs need to be attended as quickly as possible, otherwise water will find its own way and the structure will get dilapidated inside the beams and columns which in the ordinary eye cannot be seen.

Issues faced by the buildings and various types of structural anomalies borne by old residential buildings in Mumbai

  • Major concern for every cooperative housing society is to raise the required contribution to carry out the repairs. The residents always feel that the repairs are the additional burden and majority of the members in the general body tend to postpone the same.  The tenanted building, the owners who receive very less rent, do not want to spend on the repairs and the tenant think that it is the responsibility of the owner of the building to repair the building.
     
  • The internal leakages between the flat or seepage outside the building is not attended as required from time to time which leads to structural damage. The MCGM officials are many times forced to declare such building as dilapidated and force the residents to vacate the building which is the ultimate goal of many owners of the tenanted building to go for redevelopment.
     
  • The terrace waterproofing is not carried out and always other members of the society or other floor tenants want such expenses to be borne by top floor owners/ tenants who are most affected.
     
  • The attitude of majority of the members in the cooperative society not to undertake timely action and approach of postponing the same is a great concern which every society must address.

(Ramesh S. Prabhu is Chairman, Maharashtra Societies Welfare Association)

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