On January 9, a faulty space heater caused a fire on the third story of the Twin Parks Northwest apartment building. As the fire grew to multiple rooms, the panicked residents escaped their burning apartment but left the door open. As the fire drew in more oxygen from the open door and belched out smoke, fire alarms began to sound. But according to reports, residents ignored the alarms because they were accustomed to hearing them sound several times a day.
Because the building did not have a sprinkler system, the fire burned on unchecked. Smoke flooded the main apartment stairwell, quickly making it impassable. On the 15th floor, a stairwell door stood open, allowing the deadly fumes to fill that entire floor. Because the apartment building had no fire escapes, the choked stairwell was the only means of flight from the fire. In all, 17 people were killed and dozens injured, including many children.
What makes the Bronx fire even more tragic is how preventable it was. Several code violations made the fire far more deadly than it should have been. Fire alarms should not be so commonplace that residents are forced to ignore them. NFPA 101, a law from back in 1948, requires that all apartment doors between corridors and stairwells be approved fire doors, meaning that they are capable of stopping flames and are self closing. Several more recent New York laws, most notably Local Law 111, require that every residential apartment door be self closing. Furthermore, it is the responsibility of the building owner to ensure that the structure is compliant.
If doors had shut automatically, as per regulation, the fire may have been limited to only a single floor, or even a single apartment. If smoke detectors were working properly, residents may have evacuated at the first alarm rather than waiting until it was too late.
Preventing the preventable
Surviving tenants are bringing a $3 billion lawsuit against the landlord, alleging that the owners were aware of how woefully unsafe the building was. Under most state laws, the landlord is responsible for ensuring that structures are safe and compliant with regulations. To prevent tragedies from occurring on their watch, landlords must be proactive in making sure that their homes or apartments are safe.
Know local codes
Landlords should be familiar with local safety code
s, or at the very least, employ someone who is. It is impossible for owners to maintain standards they are unaware of, and ignorance will be of little consolation if lives are lost due to negligence.
Inspections can be a hassle for landlord and tenant alike, but they are vital in catching problems before they become serious. Schedule safety inspections regularly and have a professional on-hand who knows what to look for. Be sure to inspect the dwelling inside and out for more than just obvious signs of danger: many landlords have had to pay expensive medical costs for insidious exposures, like black mold or tainted water.
Landlords who maintain a positive relationship with their tenants are more likely to hear about possible dangers sooner. When a resident trusts their landlord and views them more as a caretaker, they are more likely to assist in making the home safe and less likely to pursue action against them.
Beat the minimum
Just because a certain safety measure is not required does not mean it should be ignored. Because the Twin Parks apartment building was built in the seventies, it was not required to have a sprinkler system like new constructions in New York. The same is true about the lack of fire escapes. If the owners had invested in these upgrades even though they were not required, the fire would doubtlessly have been less severe. Prudent landlords go beyond the minimum to ensure that their tenants are safe.
Get proper Insurance
Once landlords have done everything they can to keep their tenants safe, they should see that they are properly insured with a plan that covers dangers specific to their area without paying for unneeded add-ons. A good policy will not only protect the owner from major structural losses, but also in the event that a tenant brings a lawsuit, legitimate or otherwise, against the owner. To learn more about getting proper protection, visit foyandassociates.com.
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