Condominium Fire Sprinkler SystemsWhich residential condominium associations are required to install a fire sprinkler system in their condominium building or, in the alternative, hold a vote for the members to opt out of the requirement to install the fire sprinkler system? Does the requirement to install condominium fire sprinkler systems apply to all residential condominium buildings regardless of height, or does it refer to only those residential condominium buildings that are considered high-rise buildings? Rarely has there been so much confusion.

First, some background. The Florida Fire Prevention Code, as further discussed in Florida Statute Chapter 633, is based, in large part, upon the National Fire Protection Association Fire Code (referred to as “NFPA 1”) along with the Life Safety Code (referred to as “NFPA 101”). Chapter 31, Section 3.5.11 of the Life Safety Code, as amended by the Florida Fire Prevention Code, requires all “high-rise” buildings to be protected by an approved, automatic fire sprinkler system no later than December 31, 2019. The Florida Fire Prevention Code allows an “Engineered Life Safety System” as an alternative to the fire sprinkler system.

The section of law that is causing confusion is Florida Statute section 718.112 (2)(l). As you read the following provision, ask yourself whether you believe it applies to all residential condominiums, or only to “high-rise” buildings. This section of Florida law provides, in relevant part that, “notwithstanding chapter 633 or of any other code, statute, ordinance, administrative rule, or regulation, or any interpretation of the foregoing, an association, residential condominium, or unit owner is not obligated to retrofit the common elements, association property, or units of a residential condominium with a fire sprinkler system in a building that has been certified for occupancy by the applicable governmental entity if the unit owners have voted to forego such retrofitting by the affirmative vote of a majority of all voting interests in the affected condominium. The local authority having jurisdiction may not require completion of retrofitting with a fire sprinkler system before January 1, 2020. By December 31, 2016, a residential condominium association that is not in compliance with the requirements for a fire sprinkler system and has not voted to forego retrofitting of such a system must initiate an application for a building permit for the required installation with the local government having jurisdiction demonstrating that the association will become compliant by December 31, 2019.”Sadly, and candidly quite obvious given the number of reader emails I received on the subject, this section of the Condominium Act does not provide the necessary clarity to answer this question: Must every residential condominium either install fire sprinkler systems or hold a vote of the owners to opt out, or do the fire sprinkler requirements only apply to condominium associations whose residential condominium building(s) are considered “high-rise” buildings?

Simply put, while this section of the Condominium Act does not provide that it specifically applies only to “high-rise” buildings, the actual requirements, as set out in the Life Safety Code, more specifically the NFPA 101 Chapter 31, Section 3.5.11, only requires the installation of the fire sprinkler system in what is referred to as “high-rise” buildings. The NFPA 101 defines the term “high-rise building” as any building where the floor of an occupiable story is greater than 75 feet above the lowest level of fire department vehicle access. In other words, without directly saying so, it appears that Florida Statutes section 718.112 (2)(l) was designed to function in parity with the relevant provision(s) of the Florida Fire Prevention Code. When section 718.112(2)(l) is read together with Chapter 31, Section 3.5.11 of the Life Safety Code, it is pretty obvious that the fire sprinkler system requirements and the condominium association opt-out procedures only apply to “high-rise” buildings.

Adding to the confusion is that earlier versions of section 718 112 (2)(l) provided, “[f]or purposes of this subsection, the term ‘high-rise building’ means a building that is “greater than 75 feet in height where the building height is measured from the lowest level of fire department access to the floor of the highest occupiable story.” Later, this text was amended out of the statute.

So, what is the bottom line? Does a condominium association whose buildings are not considered “high-rise” buildings have to install fire sprinkler systems or opt out by taking the necessary vote prior to December 31, 2016? While it seems clear that the fire sprinkler provisions do not apply to non -“high-rise” buildings, any unqualified person’s opinion may or may not be a correct opinion when later judicially challenged. Sometimes even the clearest points of law become all muddled up in the courtroom. Imagine a situation where a non-“high-rise” building experiences a catastrophic fire, and great harm is caused to both person and property. It would not be at all surprising for any resulting lawsuit brought by the injured’s attorney to include a claim for breach of fiduciary duty against the association and its board members for failure to install the fire sprinkler system or to have taken the requisite vote of the owners to opt out of the installation requirement. With that in mind, there is only one way to gain the clarity needed.

NON- “HIGH RISE” CONDOMINIUMS: In order to have certainty as to whether your non-“high-rise” condominium is required to install a fire sprinkler system or take the vote to opt out, an opinion of a qualified professional is needed. In this instance, it would be miraculously wonderful if the State Fire Marshall would issue a public statement. Absent that, an association should make inquiry to the Bureau of Fire Prevention, Division of State Fire Marshall, or their local Fire Marshall. Your association’s attorney should be able to assist in facilitating this communication for you.

“HIGH RISE” CONDOMINIUMS: By December 31, 2016, the “high-rise” condominium that is not in compliance with the requirements for a fire sprinkler system and that has not voted to forego retrofitting of such a system must initiate an application for a building permit for the required installation with the local government having jurisdiction demonstrating that the association will become compliant by December 31, 2019. The automatic sprinkler system is not required if the members voted to opt-out. It is also not required when every dwelling unit has exterior exit access which can include balconies, porches, and rooftop decks under certain circumstances. In addition, the automatic sprinkler system is not required in buildings having an approved engineered life safety system designed by a professional engineer that specializes in fire and life safety design. If a board believes their condominium is exempt for the forgoing reasons, then it should consult with a qualified fire safety engineer, State Fire Marshall or other qualified individual to render such opinion.

Jeffrey Rembaum, Esq. of Kaye, Bender, Rembaum attorneys at law, legal practice consists of representation of condominium, homeowner, commercial and mobile home park associations, as well as exclusive country club communities and the developers who build them. He is a regular columnist for The Condo News, a biweekly publication and was inducted into the 2012, 2013 & 2014 Florida Super Lawyers. He can be reached at 561-241-4462.

  1. Evan Spivack says:

    I need to know if Ocean View Towers located at
    401 Golden Isles Drive Hallandale ,3309 has opted out ? if not I need the form

  2. neil says:

    If a condo opts to retrofit sprinklers, do they have to be installed in every apartment or only in the corridors/hallways? If in the apartments (extremely costly), are there certain rooms mandated?

  3. jrb says:

    since the sprinkler system is now mandatory ( unless condo has opted out) does this mean that all sprinkler systems in condos (including those that had it before this law) are now considered a common element and the responsibility of the Association?

  4. Gary Markowski says:

    My high rise condominium has an engineer designed state of the art ELSS that has been signed off as accepted by the local Coral Gables fire chief. However our new management company, lawyer, engineer and fire chief have all recommended to go ahead and take the opt out vote as a precaution. I say it is not needed, we are in compliance with the law and I do not want to take the chance of lowering my property value by stating our condominium is non-compliant with the fire codes and laws. Additionally the city has an “unsafe” status on our condominium building since all units have not received their 40 year electrical inspection sign off. Could you enlighten me as to whether I am correct and that the association should not even hold an opt out vote until we receive our 40 year electrical sign off from a registered electrical engineer?

  5. Richard says:

    I wonder if you could enlighten me. Our condo building already has a sprinkler system that gets inspected each year. Why do we need a vote to forego a retrofit?

  6. Stuart Pyles says:

    I am the president of the BOD at my condominiums. Built in 1968, concrete, two stories, 36 units. I do not think that our association is included in the retrofitting memorandum. Please let me know either way if we need to vote for a waiver or not.

    Thank You,

    • Petra Bouwen says:

      http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Division/SFM/bfp/Documents/Condoretrofitstatement.pdf

      Statement by the Florida Fire Marshall

      In 2010, statutory changes to the wording of Section 718.112, Florida Statutes, affected the
      requirements of condominium associations to install or opt-out of retrofitting their buildings with fire
      sprinklers. As the deadline for the opt-out vote approaches, condominium associations are requesting
      information and interpretation of the language and how it affects them. In an attempt to respond to
      these concerns, the Division of State Fire Marshal would like to provide the following statement:
      The Florida Fire Prevention Code, NFPA 101: 31.3.5.11, requires only high-rise buildings (defined as “a
      building where the floor of an occupiable story is greater than 75 ft. above the lowest level of fire
      department access”) that do not have exterior access from each dwelling unit to be protected
      throughout by an approved, supervised automatic sprinkler system. Buildings that do not meet this
      definition are not required to be protected by an automatic sprinkler system, unless mandated by
      Florida statutes.
      The Division of State Fire Marshal cannot interpret the provisions of Chapter 718.112, Florida Statutes.
      The Department of Business and Professional Regulation has jurisdiction over the interpretation of
      those provisions. For an interpretation of the requirements to hold and document a vote to forgo
      retrofitting a condominium with a fire sprinkler system, please contact the Florida Department of
      Business and Professional Regulation’s Division of Condominiums, Timeshares, and Mobile Homes on
      their website or by calling them at 850-487-13

  7. Michael Dowd says:

    On the ‘RETROFITTING REPORT FOR CONDOMINIUMS’ which is required to be sent to the State of Florida in section 1. is a requirement that “A certificate attesting to this vote is recorded in the County of ________, Florida. Book number_______
    Page number______”

    Question: How do we obtain the necessary certificate?

  8. Melissa Miller says:

    Opting out can be challenged by a small amount of residents every three years, opting out also leaves any condo in legal mess if there is a fire and an opt out on file. This article clearly indicates the best way to stay safe is have our units defined by the Fire Marshall. This kind of banter is why I really regret condo living and so intend to sell and purchase a house in a private, non associated community.

    • Marvin Findling says:

      Our BOD informed each unit owner by postal mail or hand delivery, a letter of guidance and voting procedure to forego (opt-out) retrofitting and an opportunity to vote for retrofitting. Additionally, the required advance notice of a special meeting of unit owners and the BOD is scheduled to offer answers, clarify voting procedures and describe the requirements for reporting to the county clerk (recording), state (DPBR Form CO6000-8), and owners/lessees of the final results of the vote.

  9. William Peterson, Construction Manager says:

    AS previously stated above “it would be miraculously wonderful if the State Fire Marshall would issue a public statement. Absent that, an association should make inquiry to the Bureau of Fire Prevention, Division of State Fire Marshall, or their local Fire Marshall. Your association’s attorney should be able to assist in facilitating this communication for you”. My opinion is all condo associations should demand in writing clarification with certainty from the issuing State Fire Marshall in authority over your district which your condo is and ask for clarification to a very simple question; give the address and maximum height of your condos and demand in writing the answer DOES or DOES NOT require fire sprinklers.

  10. VJ says:

    If the condominium votes to opt out of the retro-fit, would there be the danger of having your insurance company deny a claim in the unfortunate instance of a fire? Does the association have a duty to inform the association of the cost involved in a retro-fit and how they would handle the costs? What happens to those who do not wish to opt out? Are individual votes recorded?

    • Bob Miller says:

      Does the Condominium Association prove the insurance cost if we opt of the sprinkler system as we are well below the 75-foot mark. How do you suppose we validate the cost that we believe are stream?

  11. Jeff Gay says:

    What is the form or where can I find the form I need to supply to the DBPR documenting the Association has opted out but member vote?

    • Marvin FINDLING says:

      No mention is made of the requirement for a Certificate of Compliance from a licensed electrical contractor/electrician as stated in 718.112(2)(l). I question if any reputable licensed electrical contractor would issue such without formally performing an inspection in accordance with the National Fire Protection Association Electrical Inspection Manual.

  12. Daniel Shepard says:

    Our Condominium Association voted to forego doing the fire sprinkler retrofit and recorded the certification. We recognized that since the building is less than the 75′ height, we also recognized the ambiguities in the statute. The Board made the decision that it was easier, cheaper, and quicker to just have a vote and record the certificate, as opposed to seeking some determination as to whether or not the building would be exempt. We decided not to go down the road of having a determination invalidated by some court, or even the legislature, in the future.

    We had no problem obtaining far more than the number of votes needed to forego the retrofit. So my suggestion is to just go ahead and do the vote and record the certificate, so that you are protected- regardless of what type of housing structure is involved!

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