Courtesy of Florida Politics
Published April 27, 2019
The final week of the Legislative Session could finally
bring an end to a long-running battle over condo fire sprinklers.
In the 1990s, Florida law was changed to require all new high-rises in the
state be outfitted with fire sprinkler systems. A decade or so later,
existing hotels and timeshare complexes over 75 feet tall had to comply with
the same rule, and they did.
But condominium complexes were given a grace period so owners could plan for
the cost of retrofitting units and complexes could hash out how to update
common areas, and in 2003 a law was passed allowing owners to opt out of the
retrofit with a vote.
The deadline has been pushed back a couple of times since then, but if
lawmakers don’t act this session, condo owners face a Jan. 1, 2020, deadline
to get up to code.
The Legislature is considering two different plans to finally put the issue
The bill advancing through the Senate aligns with Florida firefighters and
the Florida Fire Sprinkler Association, while the House’s preferred plan is
on the side of condominium owners.
SB 908, sponsored by Clearwater Republican Sen. Ed Hooper, would set
benchmarks for complexes to get sprinkler systems installed, extending the
runway for final completion out to Jan. 1, 2024.
Firefighters say the bill would make their jobs safer — getting up to the
20th floor of a burning building is a tall order that’s only made more
difficult if a fire is raging unabated.
HB 647 by Miami Beach Democratic Rep. Mike Grieco, would set the date
at Jan. 1, 2023, however, it would also allow condo associations to forgo
installing fire safety systems altogether with a two-thirds vote among
owners. Current law allows associations to kick the can down the road with a
The key reason condo owners want to keep the opt-out is cost.
The price to retrofit a building with fire sprinklers varies based on the
type of system and how visible it would be. No one is suggesting condo
complexes get makeovers a la Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil,” but tearing up walls
and ceilings to install pipes can cost some serious cash.
According to Ellyn Bogdanoff, a former Senator and lobbyist
representing condo associations, the retrofits can stretch past the
five-figure mark per unit. And common area renovations just pile on to that
“This is a big government mandate that will punish seniors on a fixed
income,” she said of the Senate plan.
Tim Meenan, who represents the Florida Fire Sprinkler Association, says
those estimates are way off base.
Newer systems can run along the where wall meets ceiling and can be
concealed by crown molding and, according to a 2009 Department of Business
and Professional Regulation study, would set the average condo owner back
about $1,350. Taking care of the common areas would add another $947 to
While it’s not particularly cheap, it’s a lot less than the
multibillion-dollar total tossed out by opponents of the bill.
Since the sprinkler requirements went into effect, only about 4,000
associations have submitted opt-out votes to DBPR and among those are
several complexes that don’t meet the 75-foot threshold for the rules to
Language included in the Senate bill that’s backed by state CFO and Fire
Marshal Jimmy Patronis, would require local fire marshals count up the
number of buildings in their jurisdictions for an accurate statewide total
It’s unclear which track the Legislature will take, but Meenan says Hooper,
himself a former firefighter, won’t let Grieco’s bill get by him without a