Governor’s Veto Means Florida Condo Associations May Have to Pony Up for Fire Safety Upgrades

As a member of your condominium association board, are you ready to levy a special assessment of thousands of dollars per unit owner? Are your owners prepared to be hit with such a huge liability? If your condo is over 75-feet tall, built before 1994, and lacking fire sprinklers, those are questions you need be ready to answer in short order.
That’s because Gov. Rick Scott recently vetoed proposed legislation that would have relieved owners and associations in older condo buildings of their existing obligation to install or upgrade their fire-safety systems. Under state law, condos taller than 75 feet and built before 1994 must be retrofitted with sprinklers or “engineered life safety systems” by the end of 2019. The vetoed legislation, House Bill 653, would have extended that deadline until 2022. Additionally, it would have allowed condo residents to opt out of the retrofits altogether with a two-thirds vote of unit owners.

What This Means for Condos in Florida

It is estimated that at least 5,600 condo developments across the state are currently on the hook for these expensive fire safety upgrades. The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation estimated that retrofitting a condominium with sprinklers could cost from $595 to $8,633 per unit. Costs will vary depending on many factors such as the extent of sprinkler coverage in the building, the age of the building, the size and number of units and the type of construction.

By the 2019 deadline, condo boards in effected buildings will have to hire an engineer to produce life-safety reports for their buildings, enter into contracts for the installation of the upgrades, and apply for permits from local authorities. Some condo associations could face penalties imposed by local fire marshals if they don’t undertake those steps immediately.

The legislation and the governor’s veto pitted fire safety advocates against association leaders and condo residents concerned about the costs to residents on fixed incomes and the logistics of having such invasive work done in the homes of seniors. Ultimately, with incidents like the recent high-rise fire in London that claimed scores of lives fresh in folks’ minds, fire safety prevailed.

Condominium boards in Northwest Florida should first determine whether their building is subject to the upgrade requirements. If so, it is important that they communicate with residents about these obligations and develop a plan for how to begin the process of compliance. When looking for contractors to perform the needed work, boards should seek multiple competitive bids and contact their insurance carriers about cost savings that could result from installing new fire protection systems.

Boards should also consult with experienced community association counsel to discuss how best to comply with the law’s fire safety requirements. If you have questions about the law and how it effects your Destin condominium community, Moorhead Real Estate Law Group can help. Our community association lawyers provide seasoned representation for all forms of common ownership property throughout northwest Florida. This includes condominium associations, cooperative associations, commercial condominium associations, mobile park associations, and homeowners’ association attorneys.

To speak with an experienced Destin condominium lawyer at Moorhead Real Estate Law Group, please call our downtown Pensacola office at (850) 202-8522 or tell us about your needs online.