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Ban on gas grills rolling through Colorado mountain HOAs: "These changes affect all of us"

HOAs begin banning gas grills for insurance reasons in Colorado mountain areas
HOAs begin banning gas grills for insurance reasons in Colorado mountain areas 03:56

More and more homeowners associations in Colorado's mountain communities are rewriting their policies to ban the use of gas grills by residents as insurance companies increasingly say they won't insure HOAs that allow residents to use gas grills on their decks or balconies.

"It is going to impact tens of thousands of people who live in condo associations," said David Firmin, an attorney whose law firm represents some 2,500 HOAs, primarily in the mountains.

He says the move began six to nine months ago as insurance companies began to look for ways to reduce their risks, especially in high fire zones like Colorado's mountains. The insurance industry has been reacting in part to the Marshall Fire and the massive losses caused by the fire, along with the Maui fire.

"The insurance is really driving this bus," said Firmin. "The perceived risk with these grills is just unacceptable risk for the insurance companies that are losing billions and billions of dollars."

He says in the last six weeks, he has been rewriting rules for an average of ten HOAs per week to ban the use of gas grills. He believes in the next six months, he will likely rewrite rules for 500 to 600 mountain HOAs with similar wording, prohibiting the use of gas grills.

"They will either be required to remove gas grills or they will not get affordable insurance," said Firmin.

The insurance industry estimates that on a national basis, outdoor grills cause about 6,000 fires and $35 million in damage every year. Farmers Insurance estimates that grill fires cost the company $32 million in losses since 2020.

Nick Strong, a commercial insurance risk manager in Steamboat Springs, said he has been warning HOA managers they will have to ban individual gas grills or find themselves without insurance coverage.

"People are emotionally tied to their grills," said Strong. "When you start talking about someone's grill it's like talking about their children or their dog- they're emotionally tied to it. It's something that's going to be a hard transition."

Strong says the Marshall Fire was "Pearl Harbor in the insurance world," showing that even Front Range communities could be susceptible to devastating wildfires.

 Strong said he is informing HOA managers that for their 2025 insurance renewals, they will have to institute new guidelines prohibiting anything with an open flame like gas grills or fire pits.

He is planning to issue a notice in early June to HOA managers saying, "By 2025, many (if not all) carriers will require that prohibitions be in place as part of the governing documents on the use of gas grills or similar devices (i.e. open flame) on any balcony, under any overhanging portion or within 10 feet of any structure or overhang. Many carriers already have this requirement for eligibility/loss control in place."

Charcoal and wood grilling devices are already prohibited by all carriers, says Strong.

The National Fire Protection Association fire code has long recommended these restrictions, as do many municipal fire codes.

Both Strong and Firmin say if townhome and condo HOAs decline to abide by the new requirements, they will likely have to seek insurance for their communities on the secondary insurance market where premiums will run ten to 30 times higher than what they are currently paying.

For the time being, many insurance carriers view electric grills as acceptable alternatives to gas grills and some associations are expected to establish central grilling and fire pit areas away from combustible structures.

Tim Huiting, President of an HOA community in Keystone, said when his community had to seek a new insurance carrier this year, "The insurance we finally found came with a requirement that we ban gas grills on decks or within ten feet of the building." Huiting said he and several other homeowners bought electric grills earlier this year and are happy with the results.

"Thus, the gas grill band," said Huiting, "which was very controversial at first, has become less of an issue."

David Firmin says the ripples being felt in mountain HOAs will likely spread."I would ultimately expect to see this everywhere except the eastern plains," said Firmin.

Strong agreed that the gas grill restriction will likely spread: "I think it's going to be consistent across the board and in metro areas."

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