Care occupancy designations and social housing providers
Over the past year, ONPHA staff heard from a number of our members regarding the issue of whether or not their buildings could be designated as “care occupancies” by their local fire department. ONPHA reached out to the Office of the Fire Marshall and Emergency Management (OFMEM) in order to clarify the definition of a care occupancy and to gain a better understanding of how providers can respond to their fire departments.
Some fire departments have issued warnings to certain providers, particularly those that house seniors and other vulnerable individuals, that their buildings may be care occupancies. This is in response to a new regulation introduced in 2014 that set out additional fire safety features for care occupancies, including increased lighting, alarm, and staffing requirements.
After meeting with ONPHA, the OFMEM representative clarified that non-profit housing buildings cannot be designated care occupancies simply because they are non-profits or because they have a certain mandate. Instead, a correct designation depends on the needs of the clients that live there and the services that are provided in the residency.
In order for a building to be correctly designated as a care occupancy, it must meet all of the criteria for a care occupancy as specified in the regulation – notably, special care services must be provided on-site to residents because of their cognitive and physical limitations, and these limitations must be significant enough for a resident to not understand the meaning of a fire alarm or be unable to evacuate the residency without assistance from another person.
The OFMEM has developed a Q&A sheet explaining the definition of a care occupancy, which is included as an appendix to this infoON and is being made available to local fire departments. The OFMEM representative also provided advice on what ONPHA members should do if they receive a notification from their local fire department. THE OFMEM stressed that a letter or notice from a fire department is not legally binding, and cannot obligate a provider to make any changes. In order to do so, a fire department must issue an order. If a provider receives an order and disagrees with it, the provider can and should request a review of the order by the OFMEM.
This infoON provides more information on how housing providers can communicate with their local fire departments, as well as a list of examples of non-profit housing models and their correct designations.
Members can read the full infoON here.