While most often the exception and not the rule, fires in high-rise buildings do occur. Whether it’s a scary-but-manageable kitchen fire or a four-alarm blaze involving multiple units or even floors, smoke alarms, sprinkler systems and flame-resistant building materials can minimize property damage and personal injury. While most building codes and legal requirements about fire safety equipment is fairly cut-and-dry, in recent months, there has been debate regarding language in the Condominium Act and the Florida Fire Prevention Code about whether buildings with a height of 75 feet or more have to retrofit their sprinkler systems or opt out by December 31, 2016.
“Several years ago, the Condominium Act was revised to remove the word ‘high-rise,’ which refers to those condominium buildings that are greater than 75 feet,” says Jeffrey A. Rembaum, an attorney with the law firm Kaye Bender Rembaum, which has offices in Pompano Beach and Palm Beach Gardens. “However, when you read the present version of the statute, it implies that all condominium associations, regardless of height, are required to either install or retrofit fire sprinklers or make the decision to opt out.”
John Preston, division chief of the Oakland Park Fire Rescue, explains that the opt-in/opt-out rule applies to high rise units only—eight floors or higher. “It was a push by lobbyists to give high-rise management companies without sprinkler systems to not have to retrofit them,” he says. “Low-rise, mid-rise and single family or duplexes are already exempt. For a high-rise building to opt out, a life safety engineering study must be completed—at a cost of approximately $80,000.”
The issue becomes more confusing in that the Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes has publicly stated that regardless of height, all buildings must install sprinklers unless they opt out by December 31, 2016.
On behalf of the Dory Villas on Lake Miona Condo Association in Sumter County, attorneys Alan Garfinkel, Erik Whynot and Dara Lahav filed a formal petition with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) on August 29 of this year. They are seeking an expedited declaratory statement regarding Florida’s fire sprinkler opt-out statute.