Question: I read about a fire in a condo recently. No lives were lost but there was serious damage. It turns out that the owners had the required smoke detectors but the batteries were dead. If the alarms had gone off, some of the damage could have been prevented. Can my association do anything to prevent this happening to us?
Answer: Working smoke detectors can go a long way toward saving lives and protecting property in condominium communities, where a fire in one unit can damage other units or endanger lives.
Building codes sometimes require hard-wired smoke detectors. If your local ordinances to not require this, your association could set a smoke detector maintenance policy.
Before you set the policy, check whether your governing documents give you the right to do so. Your documents may already give you the right to set policies as needed to protect the health of members and the safety of your community, or if your state law requires all homes to have operable smoke detectors, and your governing documents say that members must comply with all laws. Check with your attorney if you are not sure whether you have the right to set a smoke detector policy.
A good smoke detector policy should require members to keep all smoke detectors in their units operable at all times and, for battery-operated detectors, to replace batteries as needed. It should also bar members from disabling smoke detectors.
The most important section of the policy would require members, upon moving into their unit, and each year after the first, to submit a signed certificate confirming that all smoke detectors are operable and that they have not removed or disabled any smoke detectors that were in the unit when they bought it.
Associations' documents sometimes give management the right to enter members' condos for certain purposes. If your association has the right, you might want to include in your policies that the association can enter the condo for the sole purpose of inspecting the smoke detectors. If your association's governing documents and state law allows you to fine members for violating association rules, mention in your policy that members who don't maintain their smoke detectors in operable condition or who don't submit an annual certification may be fined.
Also, tell members that if they are fined for not maintaining their smoke detectors or for not submitting an annual certification, they will have a right to a hearing before the board to contest the fine. Consider seeking the advice of an attorney before initiating new smoke detector policies.
Attorney Sylvia Heldreth is a certified specialists in real estate law. Her office is located at 1215 Miramar St., in Cape Coral.
This article is not intended as specific legal advice to anyone and is based upon facts that chance from time to time. Individuals should seek legal counsel before acting upon any matter involving the law.