Maryland introduces new fire safety legislation in high-rise buildings

April 12, 2024

Maryland lawmakers approve new fire safety bill

In a recent legislative session, Maryland lawmakers passed the Melanie Nicholle Diaz Fire Safety Act, named in memory of a woman who tragically lost her life in a fire in a Montgomery County high-rise.

The bill, known as Maryland House Bill 823 (HB 823), aims to enhance fire safety measures in residential rental high-rise buildings, introducing several new requirements and incentives.

Key provisions of the Melanie Nicholle Diaz Fire Safety Act

The new legislation mandates the installation of smoke detectors in all interior public corridors of residential rental high-rise buildings by July 31, 2025.

These installations are required to adhere to specific location and spacing criteria established by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Additionally, the bill modifies existing laws to include special smoke alarms and notification appliances for the deafblind in sleeping areas, extending protections already in place for the deaf or hard of hearing.

Beginning July 1, 2024, high-rise buildings that lack a comprehensive automatic sprinkler system will be required to post notices at their main entrances.

Moreover, leases for these buildings will need to feature a conspicuous notice about the absence of a full sprinkler system, which tenants must initial starting January 1, 2025.

Financial incentives and workgroup establishment

The Melanie Nicholle Diaz Fire Safety Act also authorizes local governments to offer property tax credits to owners who undertake fire safety improvements in high-rise buildings.

This measure is intended to encourage building owners to invest in safety enhancements.

Furthermore, a workgroup will be established under the Department of State Police to develop best practices for fire safety in older high-rise buildings.

This group will focus on buildings constructed before 1974 that lack modern fire safety technologies, aiming to improve safety and enhance emergency responses.

Memorial for Melanie Diaz and family advocacy

This legislation follows the tragic death of Melanie Diaz, whose memorial has grown significantly.

Her family has been advocating for improved fire safety standards since her death in February 2023.

Despite the new legislation, some challenges remain, such as the timeline for retrofitting buildings with automated sprinklers, which is not set to advance from the current 2033 deadline.

The bill that just passed does not accelerate the timeline for sprinklers, something that lawmakers say could take a few more legislative sessions to figure out.

FSJA Comment

The passage of the Melanie Nicholle Diaz Fire Safety Act represents a proactive step by Maryland lawmakers towards enhancing fire safety in high-rise buildings.

While the new measures introduce significant improvements, such as the installation of smoke detectors and the provision of tax incentives for safety upgrades, the continued absence of a more immediate plan for sprinkler installation underscores the complexity of comprehensive fire safety reforms.

The commitment shown by Melanie Diaz’s family and their advocacy highlights the impact of community involvement in legislative processes.

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