A bill working its way through the Florida Legislature could reduce the cost of doing business for condominium associations by creating an option to bypass expensive fire extinguishing systems.
The proposal by Rep. George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale, in the House and Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, in the Senate, aims to eliminate confusion about fire sprinklers and engineered life safety systems, called ELSS, that typically require less extensive retrofitting.
But critics, like the Florida and American fire sprinkler associations, say the safety requirements help prevent tragedies like the high-rise fires that killed 184 people at the Las Vegas MGM Grand Hotel and San Juan DuPont Plaza during the 1980s.
They suggest the Florida Legislature allowed ample time for associations to follow the rules, extending the compliance deadline multiple times over 15 years.
But community associations across Florida say they’ve wrestled for years with rules requiring some to install sprinklers devices, or take an opt-out vote by 2016 and instead create engineered life safety systems.
The associations said the rules, which apply only to buildings at least 75 feet tall, created confusion and led to expensive and unnecessary construction work by some mid- or low-rise properties that didn’t need to make changes in the first place. There was also disparate enforcement, they said, as some fire marshals required varying engineered life safety systems at properties that voted against sprinklers.
“The problem is ELSS isn’t really defined anywhere,” said Yeline Goin, executive director of Becker & Poliakoff’s Community Association Leadership Lobby. “It turned out these could be as expensive, or even more expensive, than full sprinklers.”
Moraitis’ proposed legislation would amend fire safety rules by allowing older high-rises to forgo both sprinklers and engineered life safety systems, among other changes. It would revisit retrofitting rules for individual units and shared areas, and revise rules governing association votes to forego installations.
The bill is before the House Careers & Competition Subcommittee in anticipation of the legislative session that starts March 7. It garnered widespread support from associations, their attorneys and lobbyists like Becker Poliakoff shareholder Ellyn Bogdanoff, a former Republican state senator from Broward and Palm Beach counties who sponsored legislation in 2010 to give associations the right to vote against installing sprinklers in common areas. Bogdanoff’s legislation also made it possible to bypass the installation with a simple majority vote, instead of requiring support from 75 percent of unit owners.
“It is imperative that our elected officials understand that a promise made must be kept,” she wrote in a Sun-Sentinel op-ed. “We promised more than a million Floridians living in older multifamily buildings that were code-compliant at the time they were constructed that they would not have to undergo the financial or operational rigors of retrofitting their buildings. Call it a full sprinkler system, an ELSS, or something else entirely, the fact remains that our condominium residents should not be facing a deadline they thought was in their rear-view mirror.”