The thing I learned last week…. (fire safety changes)
The thing I learned last week….
Condominium Managers in properties where the Board is reluctant to spend money on the necessary repairs to comply with the Ontario Fire Code should report the breach of duty to their supervisors and make the Board aware of their duty under the Standard of Care provisions in the Condominium Act.
This sounds like a harsh reality, but the message delivered by Chief Jim Jessop of Toronto Fire is that his new mandate is to enforce the fire code aggressively and to use fines and jail terms as methods of forcing changes in the behaviours of building owners.
In recent months the relationship between the fire department and condominium buildings has been strained. There are changes in the expectations of condos that seem to have appeared overnight…. actually, the Fire Code has not changed, but the Fire Chief has said it is now being enforced aggressively.
Some fire maintenance companies across the country have been caught falsifying records. Inspection records, testing records and even repair records have been falsified and some companies have been charged and even fined. In these specific cases, the Board of Directors and Management were paying a licensed contractor to complete inspections that simply were not being done. Deficiency lists were falsified, and condominiums were paying for work that was not required and was not being done.
This obviously does not apply to all fire service contractors, but it does make the point that partnering with a trustworthy, reputable and professional fire safety contractor is important.
The threat of heavy fines or jail terms are certainly valuable weapons as the fire department speaks to change what, in some cases, may have become a lax approach to fire safety over the past several years, or even decades. It isn’t that managers didn’t care about safety, it’s that they had put their faith in their fire safety contractor and some of those firms were taking advantage of that. Recent high-rise fires that have resulted in injury or loss of life have forced this strict approach to enforcement.
The Fire Department has also clarified their responsibility related to responding to complaints. If a condominium manager has not been able to obtain compliance on a breach of the fire code – tires stored in a parking space, storing items in the corridor, propping open your unit door in a high rise – the Fire Department will respond to a complaint from the condominium manager and warn, fine or charge the resident. This is great news for managers who are challenged by not having had the authority to enforce compliance except through costly legal channels.
Condominium Managers can be a valuable resource for the fire department in monitoring compliance with the code and encouraging condo boards and owners to take their obligations seriously. I for one, hope that the relationship between the fire inspectors and condominium managers improves significantly in the coming years and that the fire department focuses their energy and attention on those who have a demonstrated apathetic approach to ensuring the safety of condo owners and residents in the community they manage.
In short, we all need to take fire safety extremely seriously, ensure that we are paying reputable companies to properly perform important work on our life safety systems and monitor the contractors that are servicing the equipment on behalf of our boards and the communities we manage.