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State of New Jersey v. Wood

A-4961-02T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2004) (Unpublished)

FIRE SAFETY—The Uniform Fire Safety Act protects property owners against enactment by local authorities of regulations more stringent than those in the Uniform Construction Code, but not against more stringent fire safety regulations.

A dentist maintained his practice in a condominium unit he owned in a professional office building. His unit contained an automatic fire alarm system. After its certificate of occupancy was issued, the municipality amended its Fire Prevention Code “to require all properties (other than owner-occupied one and two family dwellings) having an automatic fire alarm system or fire sprinkler system to be equipped with a key box.” A key box was installed on the building within which the dentist’s unit was located, but the dentist refused to furnish his key to be placed in the box. The local fire official gave him the option of providing a separate key box, but he still refused. He received a summons and the municipal court found him guilty of violating the ordinance. The dentist appealed to the Law Division, and lost again. He then appealed to the Appellate Division. The dentist argued that there was a provision of the Uniform Fire Safety Act that barred a municipality from adopting an ordinance creating more restrictive standards than the Act itself. The State, in response, pointed to a different provision of the Act, reading: “Nothing in this act shall preclude the right of any municipality to adopt an ordinance dealing with fire safety whether or not it is more restrictive than this act and the regulations promulgated thereunder.” In essence, the State contended that the section it relied on pertained to fire safety regulations, whereas the section cited by the dentist pertained to construction requirements. The Court agreed with the State. The express purpose of the Uniform Fire Safety Act “is to insure that all areas of the State are protected a uniform, minimum fire safety code.” What the Act prohibits “is enactment of local regulations more stringent than those required by the Uniform Construction Code, Fire Prevention Sub-code, for a building which has previously been issued a certificate of occupancy. Structural changes cannot be required. However, placement and utilization of a key lock box to assist fire fighters in entering a building in which an alarm or fire sprinkler system has been activated is not a construction activity.” Therefore, the Appellate Division agreed with the conclusions of the lower court and the municipal court that the ordinance under which the dentist was convicted was statutorily and enforceable.

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