Support SB908 and HB723 For Life Safety in High-Rise Condos

Support SB 908 by Hooper and HB 723 by Donalds

For almost 20 years, all new high-rise residential condominium construction requires that such buildings be protected from fires by sprinkler systems. Beginning almost 18 years ago, the legislature set out to require that existing buildings be retrofitted. Over the years, deadlines have been legislatively set, and then moved back multiple times. Governors Bush, Crist, and Scott have all vetoed bills to eliminate or weaken the requirement to retrofit these buildings. Current law says that these high-rise residential structures must be retrofitted by December 31, 2019. The 2017 London Grenfell Tower Fire which killed 72 people occurred in a 24-story building originally constructed in the 1970’s is instructive, as most observers agree had the building been retrofitted with sprinklers this tragedy could have been avoided.

This legislation attempts to come up with a reasonable solution to this problem by granting yet more time, while providing more affordable options, but requiring that deadlines be met. 

 

OPPOSE HB 647 BY GRIECO and SB 1152 by PIZZO that would allow condominiums to vote to permanently opt out of both the sprinkler and life safety engineering retrofit requirement. 

 

The bill does the following:

  • Clarify that only high rises above 75 feet (the reach of the average fire ladder truck) must be retrofitted.
  • Clarify that not every unit and common area must be retrofitted with sprinklers, but instead allow “engineered life safety systems” that only sprinkler hallways and other egress areas, along with installing fire resistant doors, and other improvements.  Engineered life safety improvements in many cases are less costly and disruptive.
  • Move the dates back, yet again, but set up a series of dates a non-compliant facility must meet moving forward:  July 1, 2020 submit a permit application; December 21 2019 obtain all permits, and December 31, 2023 completion of repairs and pass final inspection.
  • Give local fire inspectors guidance on what to do if these dates are not met, namely, levy a penalty (collected by DBPR) of $500 per day for missing any of these key dates and for all dates until compliance is reached.  These funds are remitted to the Firefighters Assistance Grant Program which is currently administered by the state Fire Marshal and CFO.
  • Allow cities and counties to utilize the PACE program to assist in providing low or no interest loans to help facilities finance the cost of fire safety improvements.
  • Require the state fire marshal to promulgate a rule requiring that cities and counties that utilize third party vendors to collect data on non-compliant fire protection systems inspections to follow a standardized report across the state. 
  • Without a bill this year, local fire officials will likely begin enforcing the retrofit requirement on high-rise buildings beginning January 1, 2020.