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How to Ensure Fire Safety as a Landlord

Fire safety is a critical issue for rental owners. Fire can spread quickly and fully engulf an entire room, rental unit, or home in a matter of minutes. Fire also produces poisonous gases and smoke that are disorienting and deadly.

Fire inspections are conducted regularly in most areas; when your property is inspected, you will receive written notification of any deficiencies. You must remedy these items immediately, and you must contact the appropriate officials in writing to acknowledge that you@’ve corrected the items and to request a follow-up inspection. Be sure to obtain written confirmation that all items have been satisfactorily corrected.

Addressing fire hazards

The best way to ensure fire safety is to prevent fires from occurring in the first place. Educate residents about major fire hazards in the home and encourage them to follow recommended safety precautions. Here are the top five home fire hazards:

  • Cooking-related fires, including leaving a stove unattended, allowing grease to build up in ovens or on stovetops, using a stove or oven to heat the premises, or getting flammable items too close to burners

  • Heating-related fires, including placing flammable items (furniture, bedding, towels, or window covers) on or too close to baseboard or portable heaters, using an extension cord with a portable heater, or leaving a fireplace fire unattended

  • Smoking and related hazards, such as leaving lighters or matches within a child’s reach

  • Burning candles or halogen lamps

  • Outdoor grilling on patios, on balconies, or too close to the building

Ask your local fire department for any educational materials you can distribute to residents about fire hazards and provide tips to prevent fires. Your insurance carrier may also conduct inspections and provide lists of safety issues or suggestions.

Providing and maintaining fire extinguishers

In some areas, rental owners are required by law to provide fire extinguishers and to properly inspect and service or recharge them upon resident turnover. A multipurpose dry chemical fire extinguisher can be a valuable and effective tool to quickly extinguish a small fire.

If not required by law, evaluate your potential liability if the fire extinguisher is defective, used improperly, or unsuitably maintained. If someone gets hurt because the fire extinguisher you provided wasn’t working properly when she needed it, you can be held liable. Fortunately, local fire departments are often willing to offer your residents instruction on the proper use of extinguishers.

Installing and maintaining smoke detectors

Fires are always serious, but the most dangerous ones are those that start while the residents are asleep, which is a primary reason that all states require rental owners to install smoke detectors in all rental units.

You should install smoke detectors in or near kitchens, in or near all rental unit hallways and exit routes or preferably just inside and in all sleeping areas in compliance with applicable local building or fire codes and the alarm manufacturer’s specifications. If you don’t know your local requirements, contact your local fire department or building inspection agency for the exact specifications.

Always inspect and test the smoke detector according to the manufacturer’s instructions upon resident turnover. If a fire hurts a resident because the smoke detector wasn’t working properly when she moved in, she can sue you.

So be sure to keep written records of your inspection and testing of the smoke detector and have your resident initial her rental contract or Smoke Detector Agreement indicating that the smoke detector was tested in her presence and that she can perform her own tests.

Address all resident requests for smoke detector inspections and repairs. Note such requests in your maintenance log, along with the date that the smoke detector was repaired or replaced. If the resident is present, have her sign to acknowledge that the smoke detector now works properly. Smoke detector complaints are always a top priority requiring immediate attention, so keep new smoke detectors on hand.

Some states or local government entities are phasing in requirements for smoke detectors that have a ten-year, nonremovable battery, so check with your local fire department to see if there are plans to institute such changes.

Giving residents a fire evacuation plan

Work with your local fire department to develop an evacuation plan for your property. See if you can get written permission from residents to provide written notification to authorities of any rental units occupied by residents with children or others who may require assistance in an emergency, or suggest to residents that they notify the authorities themselves.

You want to provide written instructions to all residents on evacuation plans and encourage them to develop their own evacuation plan, along with a place where family members or roommates should meet after evacuating the building.

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