What You Need to Know About the High-Rise Condominium Fire Sprinkler Requirement and Opt-Out Provisions

Many condominium associations are still unaware about an upcoming deadline that requires high-rise condominium towers to have automatic fire sprinkler or Engineered Life Safety Systems in place by December 31, 2019. However, it is imperative that both property managers and boards of directors familiarize themselves with the requirements established in the applicable sections of the Florida Fire Prevention Code (FFPC) in order to avoid having to pay hefty fines for not complying with the law.

The FFPC mandates that all buildings greater than 75 feet in height — measured from the lowest level of fire department access to the floor of the highest occupiable level — be protected throughout by an approved and supervised automatic sprinkler system no later than December 31, 2019, unless the building already has an approved Engineered Life Safety System (ELSS).

Though the Florida law requires an automatic fire sprinkler system or ELSS to be in place by the end of the year, the Florida Condominium Act includes an exception that allows condos the ability to “opt-out” of having to install a complete automatic fire sprinkler system. The act states that should a Florida condominium decide that its best option is to opt-out of the requirement, it must do so by December 31, 2016.

Keep in mind that in order to opt-out, a majority of the total voting interest of the association must vote in favor of doing so at a duly noticed meeting of the membership. However, it should be noted that even if a condominium association successfully opts-out, it may still be required to install an ELSS or take other safety measures as required by the fire department or municipality in which the condominium is located.

Should a condominium association board decide to install a complete automatic fire sprinkler system or should it not attain the majority of the votes needed to opt-out, it must submit permit drawings and apply for the permit by December 31, 2016, in anticipation of having the building fully sprinklered by the December 31, 2019 deadline.

It is imperative that condominium associations prepare themselves for these deadlines. It is likely that an engineer or other qualified expert will have to be retained by the association to inspect the property prior to determining what the best option is for the building.  Our firm’s other community association attorneys and I are available to answer any questions from association directors and property managers regarding this requirement.