By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
With multiple households living in close proximity, fire safety is more important than ever. But for more than a decade, the real estate industry has delayed action to improve fire safety for condo residents.
Here it is, just halfway through the month of December, with a half dozen reports of condominium fires. (See links below)
While the cause of several of those recent fires is not yet known, careless smoking is blamed for at least one blaze. Homeowners in the association are now considering a total ban on smoking in the community.
In another instance, firefighters faced extremely hazardous conditions in the condo unit of a hoarder. In the severely cluttered unit, they found it difficult to move from one room to another, trying to locate anyone trapped in the fire.
In each recent case, condo fires displaced residents due to property damage. In some cases, residents or firefighters also sustained injuries or died from burns or smoke inhalation.
Unfortunately, long after the fire is out, the road to recovery is complicated and expensive for condo owners.
But, despite all of these grim realities, real estate industry trade groups work hard to block legislative efforts to improve fire safety.
Opposition from real estate industry met with vetoes by two bold Governors
To save money on construction costs, home builders prefer to avoid the addition of full sprinkler systems and opt to use lightweight wood frame structures. ProPublica summarizes the issue quite well in this 2016 article.
Realtors, many of whom own and manage rental properties, have sided with home builders on the issue. They cite the high cost of retrofitting older multifamily properties with fire sprinklers and other fire safety equipment.
Sometimes condo owners also resist paying higher assessments to cover the cost of retrofitting.
As a result, many older apartment and condo buildings lack fire sprinklers and other safety measures such as adequate fire escapes.
Slowly, however, the tide is changing.
Earlier this year, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell vetoed a law enacted by City Council, which would have allowed condo owners to delay fire safety evaluations and retrofitting older buildings with sprinkler systems.
Honolulu condos must comply now with new fire safety rules
By Associated Press | Friday, December 7, 2018, 12:05 a.m.
HONOLULU — Honolulu high-rise condominium owners won’t get more time to comply with stricter fire safety rules enacted after an apartment fire in 2017 killed four people.
The city council failed this week to get enough votes to override Mayor Kirk Caldewell’s veto of a bill that would have given high-rise building condo owners without fire sprinklers in their units an extra two years to comply.
Florida’s Governor Rick Scott vetoed similar legislation in 2017.
Gov. Scott vetoes bill easing fire-protection requirements for condos
Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida
June 27, 2017
Pointing to a high-rise fire in London that killed dozens of residents, Gov. Rick Scott late Monday vetoed a bill that would have eased fire-protection requirements for older condominium buildings in Florida.
The bill (HB 653), which passed the Legislature with only one dissenting vote, dealt with requirements for retrofitting high-rise condominium buildings with fire sprinklers and other types of safety systems. The bill would have pushed back deadlines for the work and provided an avenue for condominium residents to vote to opt out of retrofitting.
Supporters pointed to potentially high costs for condominium residents, but the state fire marshal’s office and fire-protection groups asked Scott to veto the measure.
The following short list helps illustrate the importance of fire safety for condominium residents throughout the U.S.
The cost of not improving fire safety in condo and apartment buildings cannot be fully measured. But these are common outcomes of condominium fires:
- Months- or years-long rebuilding process, during which time owners must continue to pay taxes, insurance premiums, and condo fees, often paying for alternate housing.
- Loss of irreplaceable personal property and/or beloved pets.
- Irreversible personal injuries and disabilities, or emotional trauma.
- Loss of human life.
Condominium fire reports for the first half of December 2018:
Condo fire in Woodbridge injures 1 person
Wednesday, December 05, 2018 07:30AM
WOODBRIDGE, New Jersey (WABC) — Video shows a condo fire the forced several people out of their homes in New Jersey.
The fire broke out inside a unit at Hillside Gardens Apartments in Woodbridge just before 10:30 p.m. Tuesday.
One person living there suffered a minor injury.
Building number nine has been temporarily evacuated.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
5 residents displaced after Chesapeake condo catches fire
By: Madison Pearman
Posted: Dec 09, 2018 01:20 PM EST
Updated: Dec 09, 2018 05:40 PM EST
CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — Five people are without a home after a fire damaged their condominium Sunday morning in the Riverwalk section of Chesapeake.
According to the Chesapeake Fire Department, they were dispatched to the 800 block of Royal Grove Court just before 10 a.m. for the fire.
When firefighters arrived on the scene, they say heavy fire was coming from the front of a two-story condo. Vehicles in front of the condo had also caught fire.
Firefighters say all the residents were home at the time of the fire, but were able to escape safely after neighbors and nearby police officers alerted them.
There were no injuries reported from the fire. The cause is still under investigation.
Long road home for StoneWood residents after December 2017 fire
By Robert Koch Updated 3:30 pm EST, Saturday, December 8, 2018
NORWALK — It was a year ago Tuesday when flames tore through StoneWood Condominium, displacing Mimi Rivera and dozens of others from the 54-unit complex along Richards Avenue.
Since then, Rivera and her husband have lived with their daughter in Stamford. But they’re eager to return to StoneWood, see their old neighbors and have their own space once reconstruction of the fire-damaged structure is complete.
Fire investigators, after speaking with witnesses and investigating the damage, determined that the December 2017 fire was sparked by a carelessly discarded cigarette on a third-floor balcony. Vinyl siding and wood construction fueled the blaze. As a result of the reconstruction, parts of the building will be safer.
“Basically, the interior is the all the same, because the fire-resistant ratings haven’t changed,” Ireland said. “But the adding of the sprinklers to the outside decks is big.”
Whether smoking will be allowed inside the rebuilt building or on its balconies remains to be seen.
“The (StoneWood Condominium) Association is in the process of proposing changes to its governing documents that would prevent smoking within the building or on balconies,” Kuegler told Hearst Connecticut Media. “Once the text of the changes is drafted, a required vote of the unit owners will be conducted.”
Fire in Bridgeport condo prompts heavy smoke conditions
By Tara O’Neill Published 8:11 pm CST, Thursday, December 6, 2018
BRIDGEPORT — Roughly two hours after fire units were sent to the Park Royal Condominium in the city, units started clearing from the scene, dispatch reports indicated.
Around 6:10 p.m., Bridgeport firefighters raced to 2600 Park Avenue for a report of a possible structure fire in the dwelling. One caller said it might have been coming from a laundry room on the ninth floor.
But when firefighters got to the scene and started investigating, they found a fire in a bathroom on the eighth floor, reports indicated. The fire was quickly extinguished, but a heavy smoke condition lingered and forced firefighters to stay on scene.
Condo fire in Fitchburg caused at least $800,000 in damage
By NBC15 Staff | Posted: Fri 1:17 AM, Dec 07, 2018 | Updated: Fri 3:04 PM, Dec 07, 2018
FITCHBURG, Wis. (WMTV) – People living in a side-by-side condominium in Fitchburg are without a home after a fire swept through their homes Thursday night.
According to the Fitchburg Fire Department, crews were called to the 3000 block of Woods Edge Way at 11:11 p.m.
When firefighters arrived, flames and smoke were coming from the two-unit condominium. There were traffic restrictions on McKee Road to allow access for emergency vehicles.
Two families were home at the time of the fire and were able to safely leave the home. No injuries were reported.
The Fitchburg Fire Department estimates damage to be at least $800,000. The cause of the fire is unknown at this time. The fire does not appear to be suspicious.
‘Hoarder’ fire destroys Grafton condo
Updated: 6:28 PM CST Dec 7, 2018
GRAFTON, Wis. —
Firefighters encountered an extreme hoarding situation while battling a fire Thursday night in a multiunit condominium in Grafton, which helped fuel the fire and increase the amount of risk.
Chief William Rice said his crews responded to a possible garage fire around 6 p.m, and when they arrived at the four-family unit, the fire had spread to the alley, and then to a car parked out front.