Fire Sprinkler Initiative

billionphotos-1199013The Fire Sprinkler Initiative, launched in 2009 by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), is a nationwide campaign designed to convince local and state governing bodies to institute legislation mandating the installation of fire sprinklers in all new family homes, as well as the retrofitting of older homes to ensure compliance. The campaign also seeks to combat legislation that would limit the ability of communities to make their own decisions about installing such safety features during construction or after the fact. What does this mean for homeowners associations that consist of not only family homes or condos, but also public buildings like clubhouses and gym facilities? It depends entirely on state and local laws.

In the state of Florida, the NFPA initiative has enjoyed some success. Although Florida doesn’t currently have laws requiring the installation of fire sprinklers in single-family residences, residential condos are another story, and many such structures are part of HOA communities. This means that the HOA is responsible for complying with legislation, and this legislation states that residential condo units, applicable association property, and other common elements within the community must be retrofitted with fire sprinklers no later than December 31, 2016.

This is, of course, an expensive and time-consuming process, so HOAs will be given some leeway. First, an association may vote to opt out of retrofitting, provided they meet legal voting requirements as stipulated in the legislation. However, the cost-prohibitive nature of installing fire sprinklers shouldn’t necessarily persuade HOAs to opt out. After all, the safety of residents within the community is of the utmost concern. Further, the decision to opt out of fire sprinkler installation should be contingent upon inspection by a life safety fire protection engineer that is qualified to determine if fire sprinkler installation would significantly increase the chances of survival in a fire. Without the expert advice of such a professional, an HOA board could face liability issues and increased insurance costs for voting to forego the installation of necessary fire safety systems.

If an HOA decides to go through with the installation of fire sprinklers in the community, but the HOA finds the process held up by insufficient funds or other setbacks, a deadline extension may be obtained. This is accomplished by filing an application for a building permit detailing the planned installation. With this document, which is ostensibly a show of good faith, the deadline for installation is December 31, 2019.

There are many reasons why the Fire Sprinkler Initiative is a good idea, especially in condominiums that share walls with neighboring homes. NFPA statistics state that 85% of fires occur in residential buildings, rather than commercial or industrial structures. Further, the organization claims that the risk of death is reduced by up to 80% in such scenarios when fire sprinklers are installed. Opponents have questioned these findings and claim that fire sprinkler mandates would make it impossible to build affordable housing. HOAs in the state of Florida will have to decide what is right for their communities. By conducting independent research, hiring professional inspectors, and voting amongst members, however, every HOA can ensure compliance with fire safety legislation.