Kokua Line

By June Watanabe

Sunday, May 27, 2001

Tarp erected for
cars could pose
fire hazard

Question: My family lives in a single-family home in Kalihi and has a tarp erected on the side of the house for use as a parking cover (similar to those used by swap meet vendors). A fire inspector visited our home and we were told to remove it because it could cause a fire and our residence will be fined if it doesn't get removed. He further stated that it's against the law to put up any type of tarp in a residential area without a license. What are the laws and regulations about installing tarps on your residence?

Answer: The use of tarps and tents as carports seems to be a growing practice around the island, but regulation would fall under the city's Building Code, not Fire Code.

Most, apparently, may not meet legal requirements, including being made of noncombustible or flame-retardant material.

But first, fire inspectors do not have jurisdiction over such structures, said Capt. Carl Lorenzo of the Honolulu Fire Department's Fire Prevention Bureau's Code Enforcement-West office. He asked for more information or the name of the inspector for him to follow up (call 831-7787).

The fire inspector may have just been advising you of building regulations, which do not allow tents or tarps to be erected permanently.

According to an official in the city building inspection section, the city's building code allows the temporary erection of "tarp structures" at a residence for family gatherings and parties. The maximum time is 14 consecutive days. Using a tarp or tent as a carport is not allowed without a permit, the official said.

The kicker is that most people can't get a permit because the tarp or tent doesn't meet requirements, he said, "So, they have to remove it."

It was just last June that the City Council amended the local building code to allow "tarp carports," but with strict requirements, he said, including: The membrane has to be either noncombustible or flame-retardant; be no more than 200 square feet in floor space; have a minimum of 5 feet of space on all sides; be a maximum 10 feet high; and be erected on footings or a foundation -- a 3-inch concrete slab or concrete pier footings.

And you still need a permit, the official said. From what he's seen, most of the tent or tarp structures being used for covered parking don't meet code requirements. Inspections are made usually based on complaints.

Meanwhile, Capt. Lorenzo explained that if someone complained about a possible fire hazard, the complaint would be referred to the Fire Prevention Bureau.

An inspector would then determine if there is a "fire hazard," which he acknowledged is a very broad term. Such hazards at a home would include storing too much combustible liquids (you're allowed a maximum 10 gallons of gasoline and 25 gallons of diesel fuel in portable containers) on the property.

"We also would check on how you are storing it," he said, such as putting it in a well-ventilated place and not stacking it along the property line (there are setback requirements).

But while fire inspectors can issue notices of violation at a private dwelling, they do not have the authority to issue an actual citation, like a police officer or building inspector can, Lorenzo said. If, however, a homeowner does not correct a violation after a number of notices, the matter would be turned over to the city prosecutor for legal action, he said.


To HPD Officer Ken Nakamura for his very friendly and professional help recently when my car died in Monday morning traffic on Manoa Road. -- No Name

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