Attention: Immediate Action Required For All Florida Condominium Associations
We are writing this letter to inform all condominium associations about a very important life/safety issue, which requires your attention. It should be every condominium association’s top priority to ensure the safety of their residents and their guests. Failing to abide by Florida safety codes and/or statutes could lead to serious liability issues for your condominium association. Failure to adhere to such codes and/or statutes could also cause potential safety hazards for the association’s residents and guests. It is our job as your attorneys to ensure that you are compliant with the requirements of the State of Florida and ensure that your association is doing all it can to keep people safe. Florida has recently enacted code which may affect your condominium association. The Florida Fire Prevention Code, requires all “high-rise” buildings to be protected by an approved, automatic fire sprinkler system no later than December 31, 2019. The Florida Fire Prevention Code allows an “Engineered Life Safety System” as an alternative to the fire sprinkler system. You may be asking yourselves the following questions:
· What does this mean for your Condominium Association? · Is my Condominium Association considered a “high-rise”?
· What steps need to be taken to “opt-out” of the fire sprinkler retrofitting?
· What happens if we don’t opt-out?
· How can we help your association become compliant?
What does this mean for your Condominium Association? The simple answer is that your association has a decision to make. There are several factors that fall into making this decision.
· Whether or not your association is effected by this retrofitting requirement.
o Any Condominium Association deemed to be a high-rise must satisfy the requirements set out by the Florida Fire Prevention code.
· If your building is already in compliance with the proper local authority, then there is nothing further that needs to be done.
· If the fire sprinkler system is not properly retrofitted, then a bigger decision needs to be made.
o The first choice is to retrofit the fire sprinkler system in compliance with the code by December 31, 2019.
o Get an “Engineered Life Safety System” as an alternative.
o The last choice is to opt-out of this requirement all together.
Is my Condominium Association considered a “high-rise”?
Based on the National Fire Protection Association Fire Code (the “NFPA”), which has been amended by the Florida Fire Prevention Code, all “high-rise” buildings need to be protected by an approved, automatic fire sprinkler system no later than December 31, 2019. Although the actual term “high-rise” has been amended out of the bill it was not the legislatures intent to require every condominium building through Florida Statute. See the attached letter from Senator Jeremy Ring, regarding confusion with the amendment.
· The NFPA defines term “high-rise building” as any building where the floor of an occupiable story is greater than 75 feet above the lowest level of fire department vehicle access. Although, there has been certain ambiguities in the Florida Statutes most legal professionals are of the opinion that this provisions only applies to “high-rises” as defined by the NFPA.
· Buildings that do not fall under the “high-rise” category or are unsure if it does as defined above, should make an inquiry to their local Fire Marshall or enforcing entity for clarification regarding their building. The response needs to be in writing.
· For those that fall under the definition of a “high-rise” as referenced above please follow the instructions below.
What steps need to be taken to “opt-out” of the fire sprinkler retrofitting?
· Florida Statute §718.112, states in pertinent part that, “a vote to forego retrofitting may be obtained by limited proxy or by a ballot personally cast at a duly called membership meeting, or by execution of a written consent by the member, and is effective upon recording a certificate attesting to such vote in the public records of the county where the condominium is located.
· The association shall mail or hand deliver to each unit owner written notice at least 14 days before the membership meeting in which the vote to forego retrofitting of the required fire sprinkler system is to take place.
· Within 30 days after the association’s opt-out vote, notice of the results of the opt-out vote must be mailed or hand delivered to all unit owners.
· Evidence of compliance with this notice requirement must be made by affidavit executed by the person providing the notice and filed among the official records of the association.
· After notice is provided to each owner, a copy must be provided by the current owner to a new owner before closing and by a unit owner to renter before signing a lease.”
· In order for the vote to “opt-out” to pass, there must be a majority of all voting member who vote in favor of the association “opting-out”.
· The vote should be certified and provided to the local enforcing authority before December 31, 2016.
What happens if we don’t opt-out?
If the association decides not to “opt-out” or fails to get the necessary votes, then another decision needs to be made.
· By December 31, 2016, the “high-rise” condominium that is not in compliance with the requirements for a fire sprinkler system and that has not voted to forego retrofitting of such a system must initiate an application for a building permit for the required installation with the local government having jurisdiction demonstrating that the association will become compliant by December 31, 2019.
· The automatic sprinkler system is not required if the members voted to opt-out. · It is also not required when every dwelling unit has exterior exit access which can include balconies, porches, and rooftop decks under certain circumstances.
· In addition, the automatic sprinkler system is not required in buildings having an approved engineered life safety system designed by a professional engineer that specializes in fire and life safety design.
· If a board believes their condominium is exempt for the forgoing reasons, then it should consult with a qualified fire safety engineer, State Fire Marshall or other qualified individual to render such opinion.
· The association would again have to weigh its options based on the different circumstances that each “high-rise” faces.
How can we help your association become compliant?
We are able to offer a wide variety of options to your association from the very beginning stages all the way through ensuring your building is compliant.
· To start, we can gain clarity with the enforcing authority on whether or not your condominium association is required to take any action by gaining clarification with the enforcing authority.
· For those associations which do apply, we can assist in drafting and ensuring the association has followed all the necessary notice requirements in order to vote on the “opt-out” or become compliant with the code.
· We can provide guidance throughout the voting process to ensure there are no issues regarding the voting process. · Once the voting process has been completed, and if the association has decided to “opt-out” we can draft the necessary notices that are required to go out to every unit owner via statute.
· Should your association members vote to “opt-out” we will draft and get executed the proper paperwork for recording with the jurisdiction in which your association resides.
· If your association decides to move forward with the retrofitting or engineered life safety system process, we are able to provide contract review services in addition to contacting and referring vendors to the association.
· Remember that our firm is equipped to help throughout every step in this process, whether it involved simple qualification questions or complex contractual matters.
Please feel free to contact our office at any time to discuss this process further.
Reminder: The “opt-out” process needs to be completed before December 31, 2016, which includes all necessary documents being recorded. Time is of the essence and compliance should be every associations top priority. If your association does not “opt-out” then the necessary permit showing the associations ability to have retrofitting completed by December 31, 2019 must be submitted no later than December 31, 2016.