Lawsuit filed over city fire inspections

Suit says buildings already being inspected by state

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The city of Jacksonville is being sued by a building owner who claims the way fire inspections is double dipping.

The inspections are required by law, but the lawsuit says the buildings are already being inspected by the state and the city. It claims local fire inspectors are going back into office complexes and requiring each office to be inspected again.

The city ramped up its inspections this year. The mayor would not raise fees, but could bring in more money with more inspections.

In the past, buildings would only be inspected once every eight years. Fire Chief Marty Senterfitt suggested making changes.

"What we are doing is we are going to inspect businesses once a year," Senterfitt said earlier this year.

Now that those inspections are underway, some are saying hold on. The general manager of the Blackstone Building, an office complex downtown, says the city inspections are going at this the wrong way. Businesses already pay to have a state inspection once a year, and the city has been coming in as well, sometimes more than once, because local inspectors are going to every business inside the complex.

"I think it's unfair because the city is double dipping on this fire safety inspection," said Larry Brake, of the Blackstone Building. "We are being billed based on the square footage of the building, and the owners of the building are being billed based on the fact they have a business in the building."

That's why the owners of the building have filed this suit, asking a judge to stop the annual inspections. They claim the city is misreading the state law that requires inspections during an emergency or with the owner's consent.

In letters from the city, inspectors disagree and say any building that is subject to public access is required by law to undergo a fire safety inspection. But the letter does not say how frequent the inspections should be.

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