Fire sprinklers are important safety devices in any building, especially condominiums. This article will clarify existing law regarding the retrofitting of fire sprinkler systems in Florida condominiums.

    Both Chapter 718, Florida Statutes ('Florida Condominium Act'), and Chapter 633, Florida Statutes (concerning Fire Prevention and Control), contain provisions regarding fire protection systems for buildings.

A. Definition of Fire Protection System:

Section 633.021(8) defines a Fire Protection System as:

    A system individually designed to protect the interior or exterior of a specific building, structure, or other special hazard from fire. Such systems include, but are not limited to, water sprinkler systems, water spray systems, foam-water sprinkler systems, foam-water spray systems, CO2 systems, foam extinguishing systems, dry chemical systems, and Halon and other chemical systems used for fire protection use. Such systems also include any overhead and underground fire mains, fire hydrants and hydrant mains, standpipes and hoses connected to sprinkler systems, sprinkler tank heaters, air lines, thermal systems used in connection with fire sprinkler systems, and tanks and pumps connected to fire sprinkler systems.

B. General Law

    Section 553.895(2), Florida Statutes, provides that, except for single-family and two-family dwellings, any building which is of three stories or more and for which the construction contract is let after January 1, 1994, regardless of occupancy classification...shall be equipped with an automatic sprinkler system installed in compliance with the provisions of Chapter 633 and the rules and codes adopted pursuant thereto.

    In answering whether or not multi-unit condominiums fall under the fire sprinkler requirements set forth in Section 553.895(2), Florida's Attorney General issued an opinion in 1997 reflecting his official position. His opinion indicated his office would apply the fire sprinkler requirement to any residential building three or more stories high and containing more than three units.

C. Current Law for Condominiums

    In 2003, the Florida Legislature addressed this issue. Section 718.112(2)(l), Florida Statutes, provides that an association, condominium, or unit owner is not obligated to retrofit the common elements or units of a residential condominium with a fire sprinkler system or other engineered lifesafety system in a building that has been certified for occupancy by the applicable government entity, if the unit owners have voted to forego such retrofitting and engineered lifesafety system by the affirmative vote of two-thirds of all voting interests in the affected condominium. However, a condominium association may not vote to forego the retrofitting with a fire sprinkler system of common areas in a high-rise building. For purposes of the Section, 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. Also, for the purposes of this Section, the term 'common areas' means any enclosed hallway, corridor, lobby, stairwell, or entryway. The Section additionally provides that in no event shall a local authority having jurisdiction require completion of retrofitting of common areas with a sprinkler system before the end of 2014.

D. Obligations Under Current Law

    1. As provided for by Sections 718.1085 and 718.112(2)(l), Florida Statutes, any vote to waive the retrofitting requirement shall be held at a duly called meeting of the membership, with members voting in person, or may be conducted without a membership meeting by written consents, or may be conducted by a combination of the two with the association counting written consents received along with votes cast in person at a duly called meeting of the membership. Effective October 1, 2004, retrofitting requirements related to a fire sprinkler system may also be waived by the use of limited proxies cast at a duly called meeting of the membership.

    2. The written consent form utilized by the association must contain a space for the authorized voter to sign and must identify the unit owned. Voting by written consents or written agreements may be utilized by an association regardless of whether the bylaws or the declaration specifically permit voting by written consents or written agreements.

    3. There is no limitation to the number of times an association may conduct a vote to waive a retrofitting requirement. However, in order to be effective, the affirmative vote of not less than two-thirds of the total voting interests must be obtained, and a certificate attesting to such vote must be recorded in the public records not later than December 31, 2014.

    4. Each association that votes to forego retrofitting of the common elements with a fire sprinkler system shall report the voting results and certification information for each affected condominium to the Division of Florida Land Sales, Condominiums, and Mobile Homes (Bureau of Condominiums) using DBPR Form CO 6000-8, RETROFITTING REPORT FOR CONDOMINIUMS. The form may be obtained by writing the Division at 1940 North Monroe Street, Tallahassee, Florida 32399-1030.

    5. If an association obtains member approval to opt-out of fire sprinkler retrofitting requirements, the association must notify all members within thirty days of the approval.

    6. If retrofitting of fire sprinklers is undertaken, the association shall report the per-unit cost of such work to the Division using the above named form.

    7. The form must be received by the Division within sixty (60) days following the recordation of the vote and certification in the public records.

The firm of Taylor & Carls, P.A., with offices located in Maitland, Melbourne, Tampa and Daytona Beach, Florida, was founded in 1981 and has practiced in the area of community association law since that date. This edition was prepared by Paul Hinckley and Harry W. Carls, Esq. of Taylor & Carls, P.A. The information contained in The Association e-Lawyer should not be acted upon without professional legal advice.

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