by Candice J. Gundel, Esq.
Do you need to install fire sprinklers in your condominium common elements and/or units? Do you need to install an Engineered Life Safety System (ELSS) in your condominium? Do you need to conduct a membership vote to opt-out of the fire sprinkler requirement? These are just a few of the questions that have arisen as the December 31, 2016 and December 31, 2019 deadlines for fire sprinkler retro-fitting quickly approaches.
If your community does not have a “high rise” building, then the answer to all of these questions is no. A “high rise” building is defined as a building greater than 75 feet (23 meters) in height, where the building height is measured from the lowest level of fire department vehicle access to the floor of the highest occupiable story.
Wondering why the guideline for “high rise” is 75 feet? It is based on the aerial rescue capabilities of fire departments and a standard that has been in place for decades. The goal here is to ensure that individuals in a building fire are either able to be rescued by the fire department, escape from the building through an ELSS, or have the fire extinguished by fire sprinklers.
If your community does have a “high rise” building then read on, this is important. Note, if you already have fire sprinklers installed in your entire “high rise” building, both the common areas and the units, then you are already in compliance and no further action is required. For those “high rise” condominiums that do not have fire sprinklers, you must either retro-fit the building for fire sprinklers, or install an approved ELSS.
If you intend to retro-fit the building with fire sprinklers, then the installation and implementation of the fire sprinklers must be completed no later than December 31, 2019. Section 718.112, Florida Statutes, provides an opt-out for retro-fitting a “high rise” building with fire sprinklers. If your community intends to opt out, then you must conduct a membership vote of the community no later than December 31, 2016. If your community opts out of the fire sprinkler retro-fit, then you must have an approved ELSS.
What exactly is an ELSS? The Engineered Life Safety System is a number of components that together are designed to ensure the safety of individuals in a building fire. The most significant component of an ELSS is exterior ingress and egress from the common areas and all individual units of a building, think exterior fire escape. If your community intends to install an ELSS in lieu of the fire sprinkler retro-fit, you will need to have the assistance of an engineer and ensure your ELSS meets local and state fire codes.
The bottom line, if you have a “high rise” building then you must either have fire sprinklers or an ELSS installed by December 31, 2019. If you intend to opt-out of the fire sprinkler requirement then you must complete the membership vote in your community by December 31, 2016. You cannot opt out of the fire sprinkler retro-fit requirement after January 1, 2017.