Devastated. It's the only word I can accurately use to describe the look on my husband's face when he read the letter he found taped to our front door when he came home from work. 

The letter was from our apartment complex saying that they were amending the "Community Rules & Regulations" section in our lease agreement as it applied to having a grill on the balcony. When we signed the lease years ago, it read:

"The use of charcoal/solid fuel grills is strictly prohibited and the use of propane/liquid fuel grills is strongly discouraged."

Since it didn't say we couldn't have a propane grill, my husband and I traded an extra sofa for a six-burner grill that his friend was trying to get rid of. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite as new or in as good of condition as she described. We eventually (in the most dramatic fashion ever) ended up upgrading to a brand new version of the same grill he found on sale for $300 at the Albertsons by our apartment.

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That newer grill has more than paid for itself in the three years we've had it. That's why the letter really stung. It informed us that under the rewritten rules, grills of all types are now strictly prohibited. They gave residents seven days to remove their grills from our balconies/patios before the new rules when into effect.

Photo by Danny Gallegos on Unsplash
Photo by Danny Gallegos on Unsplash

The letter concluded with a reminder that there was a community grill available near the pool and by thanking us for our prompt cooperation. Was that supposed to soften the blow that a significant amount of residents were just asked to get rid of an investment that was supposed to last 5-15 years?!

According to the letter, the rules needed to be changed and enforced immediately at the request of the Boise Fire Department because of this section of the City Fire Code:

"308.1.4 Open-flame cooking devices: Charcoal burners and other open-flame cooking devices shall not be operated on combustible balconies or within 10 feet (3048 mm) of combustible construction."

I had questions. What exactly is combustible construction? And what is the penalty for violating the fire code?

Photo by Joshua Kantarges on Unsplash
Photo by Joshua Kantarges on Unsplash

Haley Williams with the City of Boise helped me track down those answers so that I could share them with you in case your apartment complex does something similar. Common combustible materials include untreated wood, vinyl/plastic siding, foam siding and compressed wood siding. That very much describes our apartment complex and explains why a co-worker who lives down the street can have a grill and I can't. (His building is all concrete, a non-combustible material.)

So what happens if you're found violating this part of the fire code? Haley tells us that in a case like this, residents would be asked to remove their grill or modify it to comply with the code. Under the City of Boise's City Code, you could be found guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $1000, jail time up to six months or a combination of both if you refuse to comply with that request. Each day that a violation continues after due notice has been served will be deemed a separate offense.

Photo by Marek Mucha on Unsplash
Photo by Marek Mucha on Unsplash

What I found VERY interesting was that Haley mentioned that propane grills actually can be used within 10 feet of a combustible balcony IF you're using a small one-pound cylinder instead of the large 20-pound tanks that are more popular. There are accessory hoses you can buy that will allow you to hook one of these up to your grill. You won't get nearly the same burn time but it's big enough to make a dinner or two.

That exception is listed in both the actual fire code and the Apartment Manager Fire Safety Manual that the Boise Fire Department shares with complexes. So, needless to say, I'm a little disappointed with the way our apartment complex handled the situation. We gave away our grill to my husband's co-worker on Sunday so that we weren't in violation of the seven day window the complex was given us. 15 of our neighbors still had their grills on their patios/balconies that afternoon.

The Bottom Line

It is NOT totally illegal to have an open-flame cooking device on your patio/balcony at apartment complexes in Boise. There are three exceptions that my apartment complex omitted from the verbiage of the fire code:

  • One- and two-family dwellings
  • Where buildings, balconies and decks are protected by an automatic sprinkler system
  • LP-devices using a 1-pound LP-gas (propane) cylinder

That said, apartment complexes are private property and the management is allowed to make their own rules. You either follow those rules or find somewhere else to live.

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