Why Fire Prevention Emphasis is More Important Than Most Boards Think

/ Owner - November 29, 2023


firefighters-115800_1920This site has tracked condominium fires for over 18 years now.  The initial reason we started the tracking is because a fire in a condo unit usually takes out more than one home.  For that reason, we created an entire separate category for  Fire Safety & Prevention.    Why is this more important now than it was in the past? 4 reasons:

  1. We are seeing forest and brush fires take out entire communities more frequently
  2. Owners and association boards are paying less attention to fire prevention as a way to reduce their budget
  3. Insurance companies are getting tougher and slower at paying out for damaged units.
  4. Repair and replacement of units has become very, very slow, due to the problems with finding good contractors, owner’s and board’s intervention in re-construction, and the major increases in construction costs

We’ve all seen the news reports on forest and brush fires and the damage they create.  We don’t pretend to be expert in wildfire prevention, but states that face risks from these fires usually have good information on their web sites.  If you’re not sure, try NFPA Firewise USA.  The national Firewise USA recognition program provides a collaborative framework to help neighbors in a geographic area get organized, find direction, and take action to increase the ignition resistance of their homes and community and to reduce wildfire risks at the local level.  If your association is at risk, working with this organiztion may help prevent fires and possibly reduce insurance premiums.

Inflation, insurance and maintenance costs have risen faster and higher than boards have had to deal with in the past.  As a result boards are scrambling to reduce costs in any area they can.  They are trying to push some costs that they used to handle on to the owners.  Changing batteries in smoke and CO detectors, inspecting units for fire extinguishers, furnace maintenance, fireplace cleaning, are items that are disappearing from budgets, with the excuse that it was always the “owner’s responsibility”.  That may be true according to the governing documents, but owner’s, facing the same budget increases, are also choosing to not do the things that help prevent fires.  You should check to see if your documents or state law allow you to have a fire inspector enter units, with proper notice, to inspect for the items mentioned above.

wildfire_condoIf you pay attention to what’s going on with insurance in California, Colorado and Florida, and some other states, you will have seen insurance cancellations and premium increses as large as 600%.  And these increases are not just for the association’s policies.  Owners are facing massive increases also.  We are seeing claims ignored, underpaid, and dragged out by many insurance companies that had to deal with major losses in the past few years.  Major insurance companies are withdrawing completely from states and areas that face environmental issues (floods, fires, storms, etc.)  As a result, some associations and owners are going without insurance, even when their documents and mortgages reuire them.  Deductibles are rising dramatically to try and reduce the premium costs.  To all of those associations facing these issues, you might get some kind of break if you show that you are taking fire prevention seriously and continuously.  Talk to your insurance agent to see if this might make a difference in premiums or coverages.

It seems like everyone had trouble finding employees following the COVID problems.  Especially in the maintenance/custodial area.  Just driving around you saw “Help Wanted” signs just about everywhere.  Construction sites saw delays because of personnel shortages and this included those compnaies doing repairs/rebuilds following diasters.  Adding to that, the population has become much more divisive, resulting in more arguments, delays, board recalls and a definite problem for community associations.

A friend of ours was the President of a condo association where a fire burned out one building with four units.  The insurance company paid the appropriate amount, and a company was retained to restore the units.  Almost immediately, the owners of those units began interfering with the construction, demanding changes and upgrades beyond the insured repairs.   The board tried to get this under control, but the owners started blaming the board and ended up replacing them at the next election.  It then got even worse, so bad that the company quit about a third of the way through.  Word spread and and they had a terrible time trying to find another company to finish the work.  They finally had to pay a lot more than the insurance provided, along with a clause in the contract prohibiting any of the board from interfering with the work.  The association ended up with a special assessment to pay for the extra costs.  You have to deal with companies a little differently than you did a few years ago, and you have to make sure they are allowed to do the work properly, with no interference, and limited oversight.  Repair companies are so busy that they don’t “have” to work for you.

The point of all this is that it is so much better to prevent fires than to have to deal with the aftereffects.  Find a way to inspect, and to make sure the fire prevention items are working and/or clean.

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