Specific Legal Issues
Condo Lobbies and Fire Rated Furniture Requirements
From the Spring 2022 issue of CCI Toronto Condovoice Magazine, Volume 26, Issue Number 3
When you enter a Condo Building the first area that greets you is the lobby. For residents, this is the area that welcomes them home. For visitors, this is their first impression of the building, and where people make their first assumptions about the building. "Wow, this is a high- end building". "Ooo, this is a very modern building". "Hmm, why is this lobby empty?"
The Lobby Furniture conundrum started in early 2018 and is a topic we still get questions about from our clients regularly. But why is lobby furniture such an issue? Like many requirements of the Fire Code, this gained increased attention after a tragic fire in 2016, that claimed 4 lives, in which furniture in the means of egress was made of extremely flammable materials and significantly hindered Fire Fighters abilities. Following the investigation of this fire, furniture in common areas of buildings such as hallways and lobbies, began to receive increased scrutiny from the Fire Department. The goal? To save lives!
What are the challenges?
Well, as we mentioned, the lobby is the area that welcomes you to the building. Owners want warm, comfortable furniture to welcome them home, welcome their guests, and be the first impression of their building to visitors. Often times the types of furniture they are hoping for, big cushy leather chairs, are not made of fire rated materials.
Does this mean you cannot have furniture in your Condo's Lobby?
No, it does not! What it does mean, is that furniture in any common area of a Condo building must be made of approved, Fire Rated materials. Fire Rated materials can withstand a higher degree of heat, and if they do catch fire, they do not produce the thick, black smoke that non-fire rated materials can cause that is extremely hard to see through, can cause smoke inhalation, and is often toxic.
What are the Fire Code Requirements your furniture has to comply with? Section 126.96.36.199.(2) of Division B of the Ontario Fire Code, states "Combustible materials shall not be accumulated in any part of an elevator shaft, ventilation shaft, means of egress, service room or service space, unless the location, room or space is designed for those materials." This is one section we often see noted on Inspection Orders or Notice of Violations in regard to lobby furniture. Section 188.8.131.52. (1) of Division B of the Ontario Fire Code states "Drapes, curtains, netting, and other similar or decorative materials, including textiles and films used in buildings, shall meet the requirements of CAN/ULCS109, "Flame Tests of Flame-Resistant Fabrics and Films", when these materials are used in any… (b) lobby or exit…" Furniture that meets the CAN/ULC-S109 standard will usually have labelling stating it meets the requirement. You can also ask for a certificate or document from the manufacturer or your designer that states it meets the standard.
There is good news!
In 2018 as this standard began to be more vigorously enforced, there was a lot of confusion and not a lot of direction, as far as what was safe and what was not. Since then, we have come a long way. We have helped clients to obtain the requisite documents to prove that the furniture in their lobby does meet the Ontario Fire Code Requirements for fire rated materials and have their notice of violation resolved. We have helped other clients implement alternative solutions, such as installing sprinkler systems in the affected areas to satisfy the safety requirements of the Fire Code.
So what should you do? If you are a new Condo, as you are sourcing furniture for your common areas, make sure that the furniture is fire rated and meets the Ontario Fire Code Requirements. Keep the documentation in a safe location that everyone is aware of, we recommend in your Fire Safety Plan Book, so they are available to the Fire Department in case of an Inspection. If you are an existing Condo, check to make sure that your furniture does meet the Fire Code Requirements. Ensure you have the documentation to confirm this and have it available in case of a Fire Department Inspection. If you're an existing condo and your furniture does not meet the fire code requirements, look into your options. It is best to consult a professional for guidance to ensure that the option you choose complies with the Fire Code. The options you choose will likely be cost depended and may include replacing the furniture with Fire Code compliant furniture, adding sprinklers to the common areas with furniture, or other options depending on your building's specific situation. There are often alternative solutions that satisfy the Fire Code and meet your building lobby design dreams.
If you have received a Notice of Violation pertaining to Lobby Furniture, treat it like an emergency! You have to evaluate what your options are, swiftly, because the fire department will be back in a couple of weeks to see what you've done. If you have not resolved the violation or cannot show that you are making a significant effort to resolve the violation, it will likely result in costly fines.
You are not expected to be fire code experts or know what furniture does and does not comply with the fire code. Consult your experts! We are here to help. And remember, compliance with the fire code will saves time, money and lives!
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