There is a substantial amount of confusion about the requirement for condominiums to retrofit with fire sprinklers and the application of the “opt out” procedure set forth in the statute.
It has been reported that staff from the Division of Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes were quoted as saying that all condominiums and cooperatives in Florida, regardless of height, occupancy, or construction date, must retrofit with fire sprinklers unless an “opt out” voting process was completed by Dec. 31. The most often-used term for these buildings is “high rise,” which is most clearly defined as a building where the floor of an occupiable story is greater than 75 feet above the lowest level of fire department vehicle access.
The confusion arises because of a 2010 amendment to section 718.112 of the Florida Statutes which, prior to 2010, provided an opportunity to condominium associations whose condominium building was greater than 75 feet in height, to opt-out of the requirement to retrofit the condominium with fire safety sprinklers.
Effective July 1, 2010, this legislation was amended to remove the 75 feet in height requirement, meaning that, at least insofar as Florida law is concerned, a plain reading of the legislation means that all condominium associations must either be prepared to undergo a fire sprinkler system retrofit, or opt-out of this requirement.
Despite this amendment, the Florida Fire Protection Code has consistently provided that the Life Safety Code requires high-rise buildings to either undergo a fire sprinkler system retrofit or implement an Engineered Life Safety System.
While many attorneys agree that the requirement to install the fire safety system retrofit and the ability to opt-out was intended to apply to high–rise condominium buildings, the post 2010 legislation set out in chapter 718, Florida Statutes, more commonly referred to as the Condominium Act, requires all condominiums to be prepared to opt-out of the requirement to install the fire sprinkler system retrofit or initiate a permit application for the fire sprinkler system retrofit with local government showing that the retrofit will be complete by December 31, 2019. It is generally agreed that this was not the original intention.
It is very important to note that if your association operates a high rise building as defined above, an opt out vote does not eliminate the obligation to install an Engineered Life Safety System, commonly called an ELSS. The scope of the required ELSS will be determined by the fire marshal. There also may be exceptions to sprinklers and an ELSS if every dwelling unit has exterior exit access that meets certain design requirements.
This is where the experience and expertise of Florida Fire Protection Associates, Inc. can provide key benefits for property managers. We can make a reliable determination as to whether the exterior exit access in a building meets the design requirements of the applicable code.
There is a great deal more to cover on this subject than we can do in this post, so we encourage you to call us at 561-909-7096 if you need to deal with these retrofit requirements or have questions about making that determination.