July 19, 2023 - Blog Post

Storage Issues - The Fire Code vs. The Building Code

Every once in a while, condos face unexpected challenges.   One type of challenge we’ve been seeing a lot more of lately is Storage Issues in Condos, sometimes because of disconnects between the building code and the fire code when it comes to storage regulations.

Buildings are built to the building code and then maintained to the fire code. That should mean that as long as you continue to maintain your buildings Fire Code Compliance, and don’t do any renovations or work that requires a building permit, you shouldn't have to deal with the building code again, right?  Unfortunately, no. As we are seeing, that is not always the case. But how can the fire code or the fire department force you to change something that the building code and building department accepted in the original design of your building? W here and how does this disconnect happen?   I am going to walk you through three examples of storage challenges we have seen, where the disconnect is, and how you can proactively address these challenges in your own condo communities.

Starting with garages:   In this particular garage they had three types of storage:

Another challenging disconnect was that some plans and declarations we reviewed describe these caged lockers as bicycle lockers or bicycle/storage lockers and the fire department stated personal belongings other than bicycles were not allowed. Other declarations stated bicycles and non-combustible storage, without any clarification of what that specifically would allow.

The Building Code allows for the design, building and use of storage lockers in garages, however, the building department inspects when the building is empty. The Fire Code looks at what is stored in the lockers, hazardous material storage, combustible load, anything that can increase the risk of Fire and/or interfere with the Fire Departments ability to respond and control the fire in the case of a fire emergency.

You may have storage lockers in your community’s garage or a townhouse complex with individual garages, that owners may use for storage.  Maybe you have owners who store items along the back of their parking spaces.  How can you proactively address storage in your community?

The next storage challenge I am going to walk you through is a more delicate topic, hoarding.  Hoarding is defined as “persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value.”  This is a recognized mental health condition and not a person’s fault.  The challenge is that hoarding poses an increased risk to the unit owner, adjacent unit owners, and first responders.  The other challenge with hoarding is determining if a unit is just messy or cluttered or if the unit qualifies as a hoarding unit.  There are general standards to determine the difference between what's a mess and what's a risk.

This hoarding example was within a high-rise condominium building. The board was made aware by a service provider that had entered the suite that there was a definite hoarding concern. Contractors could not access fire alarm or fan coil equipment for inspection or service in the unit.  When we arrived at the unit, we noticed the door handle from the corridor to the unit hanging off.  This compromises the integrity of the fire door from the unit to the corridor which poses a containment or fire and smoke spread risk.  The door handle did not function from the inside either and a small hook and clip were used to secure the door closed.  This prevents proper operation and latching of the door, which protects both the resident and corridor from fire and smoke spread.  It was also observed, the door closer was not working.

The majority of the suite was filled with substantial clutter and it was stacked almost to the ceiling in most areas of the unit.  High stacking of items poses a collapse or falling risk and can trap a resident or block access for emergency services.  It was apparent by the condition of the unit that this was a long term "hoarding" and fire risk condition.

The Building Code outlines maximum load capacities, requirements for means of egress, types of use and occupancy type, before people and their “stuff” move in. The Fire Code looks at combustible load, paths in a unit for people to evacuate safely and first responders to enter, increased fire risk, and smoke and fire containment. How can you identify and address hoarding in your community?  

The final storage challenge I want to touch on quickly is balconies.  This has been a hot topic following a storage related balcony fire in a Condo building in Toronto on May 30th.  This fire originated on a 12th floor balcony, quickly spreading to the neighboring balconies.  Fortunately, the fire was extinguished quickly, with no additional spread of fire and no injuries.  

The building code allows for exterior balconies in accordance with the occupancy classification.  The Fire Code looks at the use of the balcony, combustible load, and increased risk of fire. Townhouse communities may face similar challenges with backyard use and storage.

With warm weather upon us, remind your residents of your balcony use and storage rules. Communicate risks, such as smoking or BBQing on balconies or in yards, as well as tips for how to do so safely (if allowed in your condo). Let your residents know that you want everyone to enjoy their balconies or yards and share ways they can do so safely.

For any storage challenges in your condo community:

Michele Farley, FCS Fire Consulting Services


Tag(s): be prepared || Building Code || CCI Huronia || Communication with Condo Owners || condo corporation policies || Condo Education || Condominium Education || duties of condominium corporations || Emergency Preparedness || Excellence in Condominium Management || fire code || fire safety compliance || fire safety in condos || fire safety plan