In Articles

By:  Joseph (“Joey”) Kroart III, Esquire

For many people, there are plenty of pros to living in a condominium. A condo will often cost substantially less than a single-family home, and will come without many of the maintenance hassles that home ownership would otherwise involve. However, one should be aware of the potential downsides of living in a condominium community—and none of the downsides is of more importance than that of personal safety, especially when the condominium unit is located in a high-rise structure. What isn’t immediately obvious to many is that when you live in a communal structure, you place some control of your personal safety into the hands of others.

In early January 2022, a fire broke out in a third-floor residence in a high-rise apartment complex in the Bronx, New York. The Fire Department of New York arrived only three minutes after the complex’s fire alarm system had been activated. However, because the building’s fire doors in the fire escape stairwells were not functioning properly, failing to automatically self-close and remain latched, the fire stairwells filled with smoke, creating a “chimney” effect and thereafter allowing the building’s hallways to fill with smoke as well. The hallways and fire stairwells, designed to serve as escape routes from danger, instead became death traps filled with lethal toxins. Seventeen residents, including eight children, lost their lives—most due to smoke inhalation. Many were found in the fire escape stairwells.

Not long after, I was contacted by a couple who explained that they lived in a high-rise condominium building that they knew to have fire code violations. They further explained that their attempts over the prior few years to bring these violations to the attention to the council of unit owners of their condominium and to the building’s property manager had fallen on deaf ears, and they wanted my help. Not sure whether their claims had merit, I offered to meet them at their condominium and walk through the building with them.

At the time, I was certainly no expert at knowing the ins and outs of the jurisdiction’s fire code. However, as a student of history, I understand the significance of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and the Cocoanut Grove Nightclub fires and the sorts of fire safety standards that were established following those tragedies. What I saw while walking that building with my new clients that evening led me to believe that a fire there could very well result in the loss of lives.

For much of 2022, I worked with my clients, pressing our message that their condominium building was filled with serious, life-threatening conditions that were illegal and required immediate remediation. The Board of Directors of the condominium’s council of unit owners ignored us. Representatives of the property management company belittled us and treated our claims with condescension. Personnel from the jurisdiction’s Office of the Fire Marshal conducted multiple inspections of the condominium, each time (inexplicably) reporting that the building was in full compliance.

We pushed on, insisting that someone with more seniority inspect the premises. Our efforts eventually paid off:  on December 20, 2022, my clients called me to tell me that there were multiple vehicles from the jurisdiction’s fire department located outside their condominium building. The vehicles remained there for roughly two hours.

About a week later, I received a copy of a Notice of Code Violations that had been issued to the property management company of my clients’ condominium. It detailed forty-one separate code violations, eight of which were deemed by the notice to be “high priority.” Many of the violations existed in multiple areas of the building.

With the true dangers of the building now revealed, the Board of Directors and the property management company have a lot of work ahead of them to bring the building into compliance with the fire code and to ensure the safety of its residents.

Upon seeing the Notice, I first felt sheer satisfaction that we had finally been able to convince someone with authority that my clients’ condominium building was in fact so potentially dangerous, and that as a result, changes would follow. But I wondered how the building could have been repeatedly issued occupancy permits over the past few years by the Office of the Fire Marshal after inspections revealed no violations. I also wondered how many other buildings are out there with similar, dangerous code violations that occupants have no idea exist.

If you live in a condominium complex, I urge you to not fall victim to the false sense of security that accompanies the issuance of an occupancy permit by a fire safety official. If you have concerns about fire safety shortcomings in your condominium complex, be vigilant and engage with representatives of your council of unit owners. After all, the council has a legal duty to safeguard all of the common areas of the condominium complex. If that fails to get the issues corrected, you may wish to seek legal representation from at attorney experienced in this area of the law.


Joseph “Joey” Kroart III is an Attorney in the Firm’s Corporate and Real Estate Group. Practicing law is a second career for Mr. Kroart, who prior to attending law school, spent several years running his family’s multi-store retail operation in Ocean City, Maryland and southern Delaware. As a result, Mr. Kroart possesses a rare combination of practical business experience along with formalized legal and business training. He graduated with a joint J.D./M.B.A. degree from the University of Maryland Carey School of Law and the Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School. He can be reached at and 410-339-5787.