BY PETER S. SACHS – THE ASSOCIATION BARRISTER
There is a large amount of confusion in the legal community regarding fire sprinkler retrofitting requirements. Most of the confusion stems from the fact that, in 2010, the Florida legislature removed the references to “high-rise” condominiums from the language in the statute dealing with the opt-out vote for retrofitting. This has led several practitioners, and, up until recently, the DBPR, to conclude that all condominiums must either install fire sprinklers or conduct the required opt-out vote. Recent statements by the Florida State Sprinkler Association, American Fire Sprinkler Association and the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) indicate that only high-rise condominium buildings must install either fire sprinklers or an Engineered Life Safety System (ELSS). As such, it is still our opinion that, unless a condominium is considered a high-rise , no opt-out vote is necessary.
If a non-high-rise condominium wants to conduct an opt-out vote anyway, there is certainly no harm in doing so. As a reminder, the opt-out vote requires a majority of the entire membership of the condominium in order to approve opting out of the retrofit requirements. Votes can be obtained by limited proxy, ballot or by written consent in lieu of meeting. Once the opt-out vote has taken place, the association must record a certificate with the county in which the association is located and must also provide a form to be filed with the DBPR attesting to the results of the opt-out vote. Notice must also be sent to all condominium unit owners regarding the results of the vote. Further, all current condominium unit owners are required to provide such notice to a new owner before closing and to a renter before signing a lease.
Finally, we point out that, even where a high-rise condominium votes to opt-out of the fire sprinkler retrofitting requirements, you may still be required to install an ELSS. Therefore, all high-rise condominiums are encouraged to speak with their local fire marshal to discuss the local requirements and boards should consult with counsel in order to guide the association on this issue.
Peter S. Sachs is the managing director with Sachs Sax Caplan in Boca Raton, Fla.