Just when high Florida rise condominiums thought they had dodged a bullet and wouldn’t be required to install expensive engineered life safety systems — Governor Rick Scott vetoed House Bill 653.
Florida law allowed condominiums in excess of 75 in height to opt out of a mandatory sprinkler requirement by a vote of the owners. The problem was……. even though the law allowed the condos to opt out of the sprinkler requirement, there was no similar provision which allowed condominiums to opt out of expensive “engineered life safety systems. Even if the owners said no to sprinklers because they want to save money — the law still allowed the Fire Marshall to require the association to install an engineered life safety system.
So what is an engineered life safety system? It could be a combination of safety features like a partial automatic fire sprinkler system, a smoke detection system; a smoke control system; and other safety systems. And… it could wind up costing associations more than the sprinkler system the owners just opted out of.
In response to complaints about the cost of an engineered life safety system, Representative George Moraitis sponsored House Bill 653 — and it essentially would now have allowed owners to also opt out of the perhaps even more expensive engineered life safety system. The bill passed The Florida Legislature almost unanimously with only one vote against passage. It was on the governor’s desk waiting to be signed, but then there was the tragic fire in London. As a result of that fire, the governor vetoed the bill, taking the position that he is not going to put dollars and cents ahead of the safety of people who live in high rise condominiums and people who respond to fires in those buildings.
Was Governor Scott right? With all due respect to the governor – I don’t think so. Florida has a very tough building code. The building that was built in London could never pass inspection in Florida and could never have been built here. That building went up in flames in minutes. Condos built here however use certain flame retardant materials, concrete block, demising walls, fire rated doors and other safety features that were obviously lacking in the London condo. I think he was comparing apples and oranges.
The bottom line is that condos are now under the gun. If your Fire Marshall says install that engineered life safety system — you now have no choice. And if you don’t have the money, you better find it. Can’t afford the special assessment to install the engineered life safety system? Too bad. You may be foreclosed on.
So what do you think? Was Governor Scott right?