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Storage lockers in underground parking garage against Fire Code?

In a recent decision, the Ontario Fire Safety Commission ordered a residential condo corporation to remove all items stored in 52 wired caged storage locker units located on various levels of its underground garage because they were in breach of the Ontario Fire Code.

An important (and likely costly) decision raising issues of life, safety and security.

Facts of the case

The condo corporation is a residential one located in Toronto. It was built in 1997 and is comprised of 276 voting units but also has a significant number of locker units.

Fifty-two of these lockers are wired caged storage lockers located on levels P1, P2 and P3 of the underground parking garage.  These 52 lockets are not located in separate storage rooms. They are, instead, in the garage.  The areas where the lockers are located are equipped with sprinklers. There is a 24-hour fire monitoring system in place.  The corporation also has a rule providing that only “non-hazardous” materials can be stored in the lockers.

In 2021, the Toronto Fire Services conducted an inspection of the lockers and parking garage and flagged the fact that these 52 wire caged storage lockers were not located in separate storage rooms and, as such, were not fire-separated from the rest of the building. This was identified as being in breach of the Fire Protection and Prevention Act and of the Ontario Fire Code.

The Ontario Fire Code

The Ontario Fire Code requires that:

  • parking garage be fire separated from the remainder of the building by a 1.5-hour fire separation;
  • Lockers be fire separated from the remainder of the building by a 1-hour fire separation.

The relevant sections apply to buildings that are more than 6 stories high and with more than two dwelling units.

The corporation argued (amongst other things) that, since the lockers were in the garage and since the garage was fire-separated from the rest of the building, they both met the required Code.  The corporation also argued that the Code did not require the lockers to be separated from the garage so long as they were both separated from the rest of the building. The argument was far more refined and complex than the above.  Condo geeks and fire safety buffs (like my friend Jason Reid of the National Life Safety Group) may want to read the entire decision.

Decision

The 52 wired caged storage lockers located in the garage (not within separate locker rooms) and containing household items are not in compliance with the Fire Code. As such, all of these items contained in said lockers were ordered to be removed. The corporation was given less than 2 months to comply.

It is to be noted that the Fire Safety Commission confirmed that only the lockers in the garage (ie, not in separate locker rooms) were in breach of the Code. Those in locker rooms were not problematic as they had the required fire-separation from the rest of the building and from the garage.

The Commission also confirmed that bicycles could be stored in these lockers (as they are considered vehicles). It was the household items that needed to be removed.

According to the Commission, the Toronto Fire Services did not have to demonstrate that the installation proved to be a fire risk. The Fire Code requirement are prescriptive and all that the Fire Services need to demonstrate is that there is a breach to the Code.

Stated otherwise, the law is the law, it does not matter how safe your installation is.

Who is responsible?

While these lockers appear to be unitized, they are located on common elements.  This raised an interesting debate over who is responsible for this breach. The condo corporation argued that each individual locker owner should have been made a party to the order.

The Commission did not agree and ruled that the corporation was on the hook as the corporation fell within the definition of “owner” of the building. Under the applicable legislation, the “owner of the building” is “a person, firm or corporation having control over a portion of the building…”.  The corporation was such a “person” as the lockers (even if units) were located on (or surrounded by) common elements. Moreover, the corporation was able to exercise some control over what was being stored in the lockers. They could do this through the declaration or through the adoption of rules.

Naturally, this decision leaves the owners of these lockers holding the bag.  These lockers have an apparent market value of $15,000.  One can easily imagine how frustrated these owners must be to suddenly realise they purchased a locker than can virtually not use (at least not for the purpose they had in mind when they bought their locker).

Another complicating factor is the fact that the decision appears to turn (at least in part) on the content of these lockers.  Household items (whatever those are) must be removed. Bikes can stay. What about tools and tool boxes? What about camping equipment?

You can read the entire decision here.

Lessons learned

Time to check your lockers!

  • Whether they are units or common elements: do they comply with the Fire Code?

Time to check your rules!

  • What are owners allowed to store in their lockers? It may be time to dust off those rules.

Take a walk down your locker rooms (and garage for that matter)!

  • It may be time to send a reminder to owners to clean up their lockers a bit and remove combustible and dangerous items.
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