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Question DetailsAsked on 7/31/2017

What must be done + cost? "check all outlets to make sure wiring is upgraded to avoid fire hazard/fire potential."

Our condominium community Board of Directors issued the above statement to community members/owners with no further details. I would like to have a better understanding of what to expect/what could be or might be required to comply with the BOD directive. Or, can you advise what details might the Board include to it's members to assure the wiring update meets the intent of their directive. The wiring was done in 1987.

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Generally, the courts have held that a condo or homeowner's or such association cannot require modifications or upgrades to units which were legal at the time they were built - with the exception of the few state "mandatory code update" items required at sale like legal deck/balcony railings, GFCI outlets in wet areas in some code areas, fire/smoke alarms, sometimes handrails on stairs - but even then those are state requirements in general.

So, for instance, if your wiring was 2-wire (though unlikely at that young age) and they want you to upgrade to 3-wire, generally they could not require that - which might cost several thousand $ in some cases by the time access holes in interior finishes were repaired. Ditto to replacing older piping for instance - unless you are causing a lot of damage with repetitive leaks, they generally cannot require you replace your unit's piping. Ditto if your unit has aluminum wiring and they want copper replacement.

They certainly need to clarify what they want done and WHY - generally a general safety check like that is also not justified without a specific safety hazard in mind. For instance, if they have found some of the units have defective outlets that are failing and causing fire hazards, they could require replacement of a specific or brand of outlets for overall safety. Ditto if they have found wire in outlet boxes shorting out a lot because the installer overstripped wires so they are making contact and arcing - that could justify a building-wide inspection of all outlets for such a problem (which might run a couple to few hundred per unit in normal size condo - though probably cheapest if all units were done as one contract).

I would, IN WRITING (so it is on the record and you have a record of good cause for not complying yet) first object to the order on the grounds it is unclear and not definitive as to what is wanted or why, then ask for clarification in writing of SPECIFICS of the hazard they are worried about, exactly what they want inspected or corrected, and why this is being done as a general directive.

For instance, if they have found cases of incorrect wiring or grounds not connected or such, then for normal convenience outlets you just using a $10-15 LED tester (the LED's light or go out in different combinations/colors to show what wiring issue you have - like no ground, no neutral connection, live and neutral swapped, etc.) you could check your own outlets and bring in an electrician only if one or more showed a problem. Testing 220/240V outlets for electric range, dryer, water heater etc would require electrical savvy with a volt-ohm-meter or an electrician.

Also - check your condo agreement - in most cases things like this sort of repair (if any are actually neede in your unit) but in some compact buildings with electric included in the general charges for instance, it might be the responsibility of the condo association if they "own" or control the wiring. Ditto if they want a professional safety check done but do not have darn good reason for it, because if they jiust want it for general safety purposes or because the condo association insurance company said they want it done, it might be something the condo association has to pay to have done if they want it done.

Also, consider that your normal condo association board members are generally somewhere on the, to put if bluntly, quite low end of technical or building know how - who knows, one of them may have read an article about a condo fire elsewhere caused by bad wiring or was watching a home improvement show talking about upgrading outlet wiring in a 1940's building and got a bug in their bonnet about it, without any specific cause with regard to your building.

Not at ALL uncommon for this to happen - I remember one about 600 unit condo development where one building sat down right at the edge of a marina channel so they had to put a large underdrain and sump pump system in to prevent the two basement floors (which had laundry, storage, and building-wide power panels and plumbing and fire sprinkler system and such in it) from flooding. Someone on the board got it in their head that ALL the buildings (there were 30 something of them) and started plans to put such systems in each building (at about $10,000 a hit) before the engineer approached for the design stood up and said WHY - all the other buildings are on a hill at least 20 feet above the slough !

I would say, if they want every owner to do this sort of inspection, that first it should be clarified WHY at a condo association general or special meeting, with EXPERT input as to why it is needed, then discussion and working out a meaningful directive, not just some mandate from on high. [You can probably tell I would not do well in a condo environment - a lot of things busybody board directors call for I would never stand for, like saying all rose bushes have to be red or all picket fences bright white, for instance]

Answered 3 years ago by LCD

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