4 Proactive Tips to Keep Your Family and Apartment Safe From Fire
Whether you're about to move into a rented property or already live in one, being aware of your rights and duties and the landlord's responsibilities will help you ensure an adequate level of fire safety in your apartment. Educating yourself in this area will not only protect you from fire hazards but also foster a healthy landlord-tenant relationship that's based on trust and integrity.
Seven people are killed by fires every day, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
Use the information shared in this post to make your rented apartment a safe place to live in and maintain a healthy relationship with your landlord.
1. Know the landlord's responsibilities
According to the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, the landlord should make sure the rental property is in a habitable condition (fit to live and free from hazards) and provide for the necessary maintenance and repairs. Federal and local laws mention the following landlord responsibilities:
- Complying with federal, state and local building codes
- Repairing structural components like the fireplace, chimney, electrical cables and the plumbing system
- Providing defect-free heating and cooling facilities
- Promptly responding to repair and maintenance requests
- Conducting regular fire safety checks
Remember, landlords have the legal duty to adhere to fire safety regulations or risk being penalized by the housing authorities. Knowing the landlord's safety obligations towards keeping your rented home safe will help protect you from fatal fire accidents.
2. Know your duties
Though it's the landlord's duty to provide for the tenant's safety and property maintenance, you're required to act responsibly when residing in the apartment. The landlord is not responsible for damage caused due to the negligence of you, your family, guests or pets.
Statistics reveal unattended cooking, misuse and the lack of maintenance of heating equipment and careless smoking habits are the leading causes of accidental fires in apartments.
Practice caution when using the kitchen and electrical appliances. Stay in the kitchen when using the oven or cooking on the stove top. If you must leave the cooking area, use a timer to help you multitask. Further, general maintenance jobs like changing a light bulb, an electric fuse or batteries in a smoke alarm can be done by tenants on their own.
If you identify any potential fire hazard, it's your duty to inform the landlord, enabling them to take timely action. Remember, your landlord can only repair something if they know what's broken or defective. For instance, though landlords are liable to fit smoke alarms in the apartment, it's your duty to inspect them on a weekly basis.
The National Fire Alarm Code (NFPA 72) requires smoke alarms to be replaced at least once every 10 years. Be aware of the expiration date of the smoke alarms installed in your apartment and talk to your landlord to get the expired ones replaced. Check for missing or disconnected alarms, dead batteries or low-battery chirps and replace them immediately.
Similarly, fireplaces and chimneys require regular maintenance. According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America, chimney fires are life-threatening and can severely damage the building structure. Make sure your landlord gets the apartment's chimney and fireplace cleaned and repaired on a regular basis by hiring a reputed chimney cleaning service provider. Also, installing carbon monoxide detectors is a must for rooms with a wood fire.
Lastly, when the landlord sends workers to fix the issue, it's your duty to be responsive and flexible in allowing access to the maintenance staff.
3. Report all issues in writing
As a tenant, it's your responsibility to report damages and defects to the landlord in writing or through email. When requesting repairs or maintenance, it's a good idea to include a brief summary and an image of the problem. For instance, if your grievance is about the mounting creosote deposits in your chimney flue, include an image showing this in your email, enabling your landlord to hire a chimney cleaning service immediately.
Further, keep records of all the formal complaints you make in this regard. These include documents such as photographs of the damage, copies of the letters and emails, receipts of repairs undertaken by you, testimonials from professionals who you have hired for repair services, bills of lodging you had to shift into due to the property being uninhabitable and the apartment's inventory report.
The above-mentioned details will prove to be useful evidence in case of a court proceeding against your landlord.
4. Be prepared for the worst-case scenario
Though the Landlord and Tenant Act governs the rental agreements for residential properties, each U.S. state has its own landlord-tenant laws with many of the statutes being similar. All landlords are required to comply with federal and state landlord-tenant laws.
If your landlord refuses to make the necessary home repairs and maintenance for fire safety or the problem violates the state's building and health codes, contact your local housing authority to learn about your state laws and report the issue.
For instance, if your landlord refuses to install a smoke alarm in the rental property, you can ask the local housing authority to take a look at your apartment's fire safety. The authority will assess the situation and issue a notice to the landlord to install a smoke alarm. If the landlord fails to fix the problem even after receiving the notice, they will be penalized by the authorities. Meanwhile, you can make the necessary repairs and deduct the amount from the rent check.
Firefighters respond to a house fire every 88 seconds in the U.S., according to the National Fire Protection Association.
You can also withhold the rent until the corrective measures are taken. Housing authorities in a few states encourage tenants to transfer the rent to an escrow account that will be released once the landlord undertakes the repair and maintenance.
Lastly, if the problem is preventing you from living comfortably in the apartment, you may move out and cancel the rental agreement. You'll need to present evidence that the property was uninhabitable due to the landlord's negligence and you vacated the premises in a reasonable time.
Given the high incidences of home fires in the U.S., tenants and landlords should work hand-in-hand to reduce the risk of fire hazards in rented apartments. If you're planning to shift into or are already living in a rented property, you should be aware of your safety rights and the landlord's responsibilities. The information shared in this post will serve as an effective guide towards protecting you from fire accidents in your newly-rented apartment.
This content is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.
Jesse Peralta is the founder of Chimcare, a family owned business in the Pacific Northwest engaged in chimney services. The team is professional in the field, offering expert advice pertaining to a chimney sweep. Also, they have extensive knowledge and expertise in managing chimney services in Seattle including cleaning, repairing, other masonry services and much more.