Condominiums must be constructed in accordance with at least the minimum standards of the building code in effect when the construction was approved. Whether that code is the old BOCA Code or the new International Residential Code, there are fire sub-codes that must be complied with. One of the most important requirements of those Codes is the requirements for fire wall assemblies. These include fire walls and draft-stopping. Fire walls are typically constructed between two condominium units. They are designed to slow the fire for one or two hours –depending upon the required rating of the fire wall assembly–so that people have time to evacuate and the fire department can have a chance to put out the fire before it spreads.
When multi-story condominium buildings are constructed, it is usually necessary to vent plumbing and HVAC pipes from the first floor up through the interior of the building and out the roof. When the plumber or HVAC contractors install their pipes, they either make holes or use holes cut by other contractors so they can run their pipes up through the building and out the roof. In a similar way, electricians run conduits through the inside of the building and then up through the roof, especially where there are roof-mounted HVAC units that have high-voltage wiring that must be installed by the electrical contractor. Draft-stopping is installed in these holes to stop the flow of air throughout the inside of the building. Otherwise, if there is a fire, the holes act like the flue in a chimney and conduct air that fans the flames and exacerbates the spread of the fire.
Many times associations treat claims relating to fire assemblies and draft-stopping as throw-away claims and negotiate them away in exchange for other considerations. This is a mistake. We have handled several matters where fires broke out and were seriously exacerbated by the lack of proper fire wall assemblies and draft-stopping. The association should recognize that these claims are life-safety issues that should be treated as serious , valuable claims. As fiduciaries, the Board members should bear in mind that they have a duty to protect the lives and safety of the unitowners and that this a paramount responsibility. Developers may argue that there is no consequential damage (ie, damage to other property) and therefore there is no insurance coverage. This is a ridiculous argument. While the insurance analysis is complicated, the carrier for the developer should not be able to get away with denying coverage on the theory that it has to wait until there is a fire and people die or property is destroyed before they have to cover the claim. If you have any questions about this, please contact us.