For many years, Florida law mandated that the State Fire Marshal and the Department of Children and Families coordinate the establishment of rules and regulations governing fire and life safety for treatment centers and their associated components, which would include sober living.
In 2015, at the same time when the Florida legislature started down the road of licensure of recovery residences, they also required such residences to pass a “fire inspection.”
Nothing wrong with that at all.
Except that the State Fire Marshal and DCF never coordinated over drafting the regulations. Ever.
At the same time, in 2015, the Florida legislature then repealed the mandate of coordination. Meaning, if you ask those two governmental entities to get together to talk, they will not, because they do not have authorization to do so.
As a result, today, local cities and counties randomly determine on their own what level of “safety improvements” are required.
However, since 2015 (and for a period before), fire departments across the State of Florida have been speaking with one another and have determined that they are NOT residential uses but rather classified as “Residential Board and Care” facilities, which under the NFPA 101 (the National Fire Protection Association fire code adopted for life safety and evacuation), are the equivalent of Assisted Living Facilities.
This reclassification requires anyone who provides a sober living residence to now install fire sprinklers at a phenomenal cost, notwithstanding that everyone is otherwise capable of evacuation, self-preservation, and escape. Ironically, perhaps, while we have asserted that sober living residences should be required to maintain Narcan onsite and have all operators and managers certified in CPR, the state is simply worried about fires.
Now, in another moment of irony, the State of Florida this last legislative session tried passing a law to DEFER the mandatory installation of fire sprinklers and other modern life safety systems in Florida’s aging high rise condominiums, where a large portion of independent yet elderly residents retire to live. Think 9/11 on a small scale. How are they going to escape a fire? Running down the stairwells?
The strong lobby by law firms representing condo associations complained about cost and lack of need, and unlike recovery residences, the state agreed that condos were exempt, but recovery residences were not.
However, in a moment of clarity, Florida’s governor vetoed that bill and require all such buildings come into compliance by 2019.
And the response from the condo commandos?
Association leaders, condo lawyers and residents called the veto a bad deal, while those in enforcement noted that owners have had more than enough chances to install upgrades mandated nearly two decades ago.
Pio Ieraci, president of the 16,000-resident Galt Mile Community Association in Fort Lauderdale, said the veto will force buildings to spend millions of dollars on sprinklers and other equipment, leading to expensive special assessments — $15,000 to $25,000 per owner, in some cases.
He said many residents in older buildings are on fixed incomes and could lose their homes in foreclosure if they can’t come up with the money. And he said the assessments could jeopardize the financial stability of condo associations, reduce property values and make it harder for owners to sell individual units.
“It’s unconscionable and unbelievable,” Ieraci said. “The impact is huge.”
Eric Berkowitz, 67, who lives in a three-bedroom Galt Ocean Mile condo, said he and many of his neighbors live on modest means and wonder whether assessments will force them to leave.
“We’re frightened, is basically what it comes down to,” he said. “I live on a pension and Social Security. Most of the people here are not masters of the universe. We can’t afford something capricious like this.”
Welcome to our world.