All of you who live in a condominium are now certainly aware that by December 31st, if your building is 75 feet or higher, you will be required to install a fire sprinkler system in your condominium, unless the unit owners vote to opt out. Many of you have already done so.
A few weeks ago, I wrote in my blog that you need not worry about opting out if your building is not 75 feet or taller, because there is absolutely no law in The State of Florida that requires buildings under 75 feet to install a fire sprinkler system.
On Tuesday I had the pleasure of speaking with Karl Thompson, Chief Engineer, Bureau of Fire Prevention, Division of State Fire Marshal. He confirmed in no uncertain terms that if you’re under 75 feet —– THERE IS NOTHING TO OPT OUT OF. YOU ARE NOT REQUIRED TO INSTALL FIRE SPRINKLERS. HOW DO YOU VOTE TO OPT OUT OF SOMETHING THAT YOU’RE NOT REQUIRED TO DO IN THE FIRST PLACE! He also confirmed that NO FIRE INSPECTOR IN THE STATE OF FLORIDA CAN CITE A CONDOMINIUM THAT IS LESS THAN 75 FEET FOR FAILURE TO HAVE SPRINKLERS.
You would think that when the state’s Fire Marshall gives an interpretation of Florida’s fire prevention laws, that would be the end of it right? Wrong. Apparently, the Division of Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes knows the fire laws better than the experts paid to enforce them. The Division still refuses to take the position that condominiums under 75 feet tall do not have to opt out. They believe the condominium statute does not specifically state that buildings under 75 are automatically exempt.
I respond by saying: WHO CARES WHAT YOU THINK THE FLORIDA CONDOMINIUM STATUTE REQUIRES WHEN IT COMES TO FIRE SAFETY? You know for sure and for certain that there is no law in Florida that requires condominiums less than 75 feet to install fire sprinklers. Why can’t you simply take that position? What business do you have attempting to enforce the fire code? Stick to condominiums and let the fire experts deal with fire.
So, because the Division has stuck its neck into business it should not be involved in, smaller condominiums are freaking out, thinking they still have to opt out, even when our state fire officials say they do not. Let’s take this to its potential conclusion and say that a two story 30 foot condo does not opt out by December 31st. Does anyone really believe that on January 1st, the Division can require a condominium to install a fire sprinkler system? I would like to see them try. The bottom line is that they can’t because the Division does not enforce the fire code.
It gets worse. The State Senator who drafted the legislation at issue has informed the Division that the intent of the law was never to require buildings less than 75 feet to opt out. Not even that is good enough for the Division. So in the mean time, smaller condominiums that can least afford it are running scared and believe they have to pay an attorney to draft the necessary opt out documents. They don’t.
This is part of the reason why there are many, who if given the chance would vote to “opt out” of regulation by the Division of Condominiums and the DBPR. Hey Tallahassee, how about doing the right thing here and retracting your position?