Owners scramble to find funds, meet deadlines as city requires high-rises to install sprinklers
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A city ordinance requiring high-rise buildings to install fire sprinklers or pass a safety inspection is raising concerns among apartment owners.
As a result of the Marco Polo fire in 2017, the city implemented an ordinance requiring the installation of fire sprinklers in 2019.
Owners also have the option to pass a life safety evaluation instead. Structures under 10 stories or have opened-exterior quarters are exempt.
The Honolulu Fire Department said there are over 300 high-rise buildings affected by the ordinance, but apartment owners are fighting for a fair solution as funding and meeting city deadlines pose issues.
President of the Hawaii Council of Community Associations, Jane Sugimura said the Marco Polo finished installing fire sprinklers last October, costing them $5.4 million.
Meanwhile, HFD said out of the 184 safety evaluations submitted, only a dozen have passed.
“Our personnel routinely create pre-plans for these areas, especially for those high-risk occupancies,” said Honolulu Fire Chief Sheldon Hao. “And again, they go in and work with the high-rise owners to make sure that we have a solid plan and identify all of the risk for each different location.”
The rest must make improvements to pass or install sprinklers.
“Where are they going to get the money? Are there going to be contractors?” Sugimura asked. “We all heard about the supply chain issue, inflation and people quitting their jobs.”
Sugimura said buildings without sprinklers are getting hit with insurance premiums.
“My building with 300 units, our insurance went up 30% in 2020 to $44,000,” said Sugimura. “And the owners of my building are going to have to pay for that and it’s happening all over town.”
Sugimura is one of the owners who has until 2025 to make repairs.
She’s asking for building permits to be made a priority especially for those on a deadline.
“Right now, it takes us a year or two to get even a permit to do the smallest job,” Sugimura said. “And now you’ve got 200 buildings along with everybody else in town who wants a building permit.”
“You don’t have enough people to process the applications.”
Councilmember Carol Fukunaga who chairs the Public Infrastructure and Technology Committee said they are still in the data-gathering process.
“In our posted Feb. 24 meeting agenda, the public can see that we are posing questions to the city administration about these fire safety measures, especially relating to funding,” said Fukunaga.
“Our committee will continue to speak with the administration and seek public input before we reach the point of deciding next steps.”
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