The Ontario Fire Code is a pervasive document that encompasses all the various types of properties in existence in Ontario. Not only is it concerned with the maintenance of all things related to fire protection in a given building, but it also addresses the retrofitting of certain types of properties.
Originally, the code dealt with the retrofit only of hospitals, nursing homes, rooming houses, and places where large numbers of people gather, such as theatres. Within the most recent edition, the retrofit mandate was extended to include both low-rise and high-rise residential buildings, as well as basement apartments.
The requirements for retrofit developed over the years, as a repercussion of fire disasters transpiring in the very types of structures that are now targeted for upgrading. Problem areas in these structures were identified after a disaster occurred and were highlighted for improvement.
Although any building is much safer after it has been retrofitted, it must be remembered that the improvements are only the minimum standards for life safety, and that the building owner is free to do more than is required.
So how do you know if your property is required to be retrofitted? Well. anyone that owns an older existing building that has or is: a basement apartment, a small apartment building, a large apartment building, a rooming house, a hospital, a nursing or old age home, an assembly occupancy (large groups of people congregating in one area, such as a theatre) probably needs to have their building assessed and retrofitted.
It is important to note the word "existing" in the previous sentence as it is now illegal, in many municipalities, to start new construction of some of the aforementioned structures. Basement apartments are a good example of this. Many municipalities ban the construction of new basement apartments, although existing ones are candidates for retrofit.
As an owner of one of these structures, you may wonder why you should do any retrofit work at all. According to the Fire Code, it is the owner of the building that is ultimately responsible for the upkeep of that building.
Since the Ontario Fire Code is enacted under the Fire Marshall's Act, it is a fully enforceable law under the auspices of the Chief Fire Official of any municipality in Ontario. In other words, ignore this legislation at you own peril.
All it takes is one complaint forwarded to a city inspector and you may be charged with an infraction of the code. If found guilty in a court of law, you may be fined or even imprisoned. This is in addition to the explanations you must give to your insurance company, should a fire disaster occur in your non-compliant property. In the case of a fire death or injury occurring in conjunction with this calamity, any surviving family members may also elect to sue you. Is it really worth the risk?
If you have a property listed, you may be thinking that you can sell it as is and not disclose the need for retrofit to the prospective buyer. Think again. The consumer of the '90s is a very savvy buyer, who more often than not does his or her research in advance. He or she will recognize a non-compliant property and may very well bypass it. Also, you may be sued by the unsuspecting new owner, after the sales has been completed, for loss of income.
The reason is simple: if the new owner cannot legally operate the income property because he or she is threatened with closure by city inspectors, he or she may very well come after you.
So what is the solution? Your best bet is to hire a competent and experienced Fire and Building Code consultant who can provide you with the necessary information for retrofitting your property. It becomes a win-win situation for both the buyer and the seller. The seller wins by making his or her property more marketable. The buyer wins by purchasing a property that complies with all of the necessary regulations, and can therefore legally continue to derive income from it without any hitches.
Fire can strike at any time. Give yourself and your tenants the best possible chance of survival by ensuring that your building complies with all the latest retrofit standards.