Ask Atty Pat: What Are The New Laws On Using Grills In Condos?
I am receiving inquiries about a recent article in the Hartford Courant regarding changes to the Connecticut State Fire Prevention Code. The change, which became effective on May 7, 2015, bans the use and storage of charcoal and propane grills (open flame grills) on many condominium decks and balconies. The grills are prohibited from decks and balconies made of combustible material and areas within 10 feet of a building, including overhangs. Open flame smokers, chimineas and fire pits may be included. Single family homes and two unit buildings with town house units are specifically excluded.
The restriction is part of the International Fire Code. Thirty-two other states, including California and New York, have already adopted parts of the Code. The reason? Public safety. Open flames can ignite the deck on which the grill is located, the combustible structures above the grill, and the siding and trim of buildings. Grills cause thousands of fires each year and send countless people to the emergency room.
Fire marshals in some towns are not aware of the restriction, while others may not be actively enforcing the restriction. Some town of fire marshals are already giving notice to condominiums about the restriction. Individual fire marshals may have differing opinions about the interpretation of the restriction. It is best to check with your local fire marshal about whether the condominium buildings are covered.
Decks and balconies are usually part to the common elements of a condominium. The Association has the authority to pass rules limiting or controlling behavior on common elements. The condominium association can easily pass a rule that will require compliance with the code. To not pass and enforce such a rule could be negligent.
There are many reasons why condominium Associations should not ignore the restrictions. Violation of fire codes can result in fines and legal action by the fire marshal. Insurance companies can deny coverage for fires that originate because of a fire code violation. Insurance companies could even refuse to provide an insurance policy for the condominium. If a person is injured or property is damaged, the attorney for the injured party will easily argue that the Association was negligent for allowing violations of the fire code and the Association will be liable, possibly without insurance coverage.
Occupants of the condominium should be aware that the fire marshal can personally fine or sue the occupants themselves for violating the restrictions. A citation for violation carries a $250 fine. A continuing violation carries a fine of $50 per day. In addition, in some circumstances, a person who violates the State Fire Prevention Code can be fined for between two hundred dollars and one thousand dollars or be imprisoned not more than six months, or both.
Associations can provide alternatives to deck grilling by creating safe areas on the common elements for grilling. The safe area may just be any location that is ten feet from any combustible material. The safe area could be a separate common area designed just for community grilling. The Association should consider a procedure for the safe disposal of charcoal. Associations can require that all grills be electric and installed in compliance with electrical code requirements.
The storage of the individual grills will be another problem. Associations can mandate that propane tanks be removed from gas grills and allow storage of the grills. Then, the problem would be the storage of the propane tanks. The Association can provide a separate fire proof storage building for grills or propane tanks that is located far enough from the main structure. The fire proof structure would have to be designed and used in compliance with the requirements of the fire marshal and should have a label warning fire fighters.
Pat Ayars is a Glastonbury attorney who specializes in condo issues. She is a member of the Connecticut Condo Association Advisory Committee.