A tenant in Albany, New York was heralded as a hero last week for her quick thinking when a fire broke out in her roommate’s bedroom.
Firefighters say the woman had the presence of mind to shut the bedroom door before she fled the apartment. That simple action is credited with preventing the spread of flames to dozens of other units, and potentially saving lives.
Landlords can be heroes, too, by stepping up and providing tenants with the tools they need to escape harm and financial loss in the event of fire.
Start with the assumption that not everyone knows what to do if a fire breaks out. What’s worse, the scene quickly becomes chaotic, and people make mistakes, which can lead to deaths.
A fire escape plan must be tailored to the specific structure. For that reason, the best advice for landlords is to consult the local fire department to develop an effective plan. This may include written materials to be posted around the property, or the agency may be willing to send out an instructor to offer a safety presentation to your tenants.
Take fire code regulations seriously. That may mean assuring all units have more than one exit, or removing bars on windows. Many fire deaths occur each year when tenants living on lower floors cannot remove the window bars. If these safety devices are installed, watch each tenant open them during the move-in orientation.
Inspect balconies, hallways and stairwells on a regular basis. Remove tenant items that may be stored there, and make sure railings and steps are in good repair — imagine tenants accessing these areas with obstructed vision.
Make sure hallway and exit lighting is in good repair.
Check smoke detectors and batteries regularly. Prohibit removal or tampering in the lease agreement. Check fire extinguishers routinely and track expiration dates.
Ask tenants to provide an honest accounting of the occupants and pets in the unit, in the event firefighters are on scene.
Provide your emergency contact information in advance to tenants and first responders.
Encourage renters to carry insurance for their possessions. While a landlord’s policy likely will cover the building damage, the tenant’s furnishings usually are not covered under the landlord’s policy. A fire that starts in another unit can cause devastating financial losses for another tenant without insurance. Also, a renters policy may cover any liability if the tenant was negligent.
Take steps to avoid fires by eliminating the common causes. Many fires start in the kitchen. Another common problem is space heaters or air conditioners running from extension cords or overloading outlets. Conduct a tenant orientation regarding the proper use of appliances and electrical outlets.
Regardless of how a fire starts, many end in catastrophe simply because tenants do not know what to do. In a panic, they might make a bad situation even worse. Having a plan can save lives, reduce damage to the property, and lessen the time tenants are displaced if there is a fire.
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.