Did you know cooking is the leading cause of apartment fires and fire-related injuries? Nearly half of all home fires start in the kitchen, resulting in approximately 10% of residential fire deaths in the United States. Apartment fires, whether caused by cooking or an electrical fault, can spread rapidly and put the lives of other residents in danger; 30 seconds is all it takes for a small flame to quickly turn into a large blaze.
While fire prevention generally depends on the actions of tenants, the responsibility ultimately rests on the landlord or property manager. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to be proactive, including educating your tenants on how to prevent fires, keeping up with routine maintenance, and installing fire extinguishers and sprinkler systems. To help keep your properties as fire-free as possible, here are some helpful tips to follow. Please keep in mind that this is not intended as legal advice, but for information only. Laws may vary depending on your location.
The Most Common Causes of Apartment Fires
One of the first steps in preventing apartment fires is to understand what typically causes them. Here are some of the most common culprits:
- Cookers and stovetops
- Heating equipment, such as furnaces, clogged chimneys, heaters, and fireplaces
- Barbecue grills
Fire Prevention Tips
Discuss the house rules
If you don’t have a section on fire prevention house rules and tips in your lease or rental agreement, consider adding one and make following them a condition of living on the property. To be sure everyone is on the same page, explain all rules verbally and have the tenant sign or initial the section. Here are a few examples of things you might want to include:
- Instruct tenants not to leave any cooking food unattended
- Remind tenants not to leave lit candles unattended, or go a step further and implement a no-candle policy
- Caution tenants not to leave children unattended or to cook unsupervised
- Include a clearly defined no-smoking policy
- Grills should be kept at least 10 feet away from the home or overhangs; they should also never be used on balconies or left unattended
- Remind tenants to avoid overloading outlets with adapters or using extension cords as a permanent source of power (especially under rugs or carpet!)
Although many of these things seem common sense, don’t assume your tenants already know.
Install smoke detectors in every room and test them regularly
Smoke detectors are one of the most essential tools in fire prevention. Each room should be equipped with a functioning smoke alarm that’s tested regularly. The batteries should also be replaced every six months; the alarms themselves should be replaced at least once every ten years.
Perform regular fire-safety checks
Set up a schedule to conduct regular fire-safety checks. This is a good time to test smoke alarms and replace batteries, making sure dry brush or shrubbery near the building is cleared away, and that emergency exits (like windows) are easily accessible.
Create a fire escape plan
Knowing how to escape a multifamily property in the event of a fire is crucial to the safety of all residents. Create an escape plan that’s posted in every unit showing tenants how to get to the nearest exit safely and quickly. This notice should also include your contact info and that of emergency services. Discuss the plan with each tenant and schedule fire drills occasionally to practice evacuating. If you have a particularly large multifamily complex, you may also want to consider adding signage showing the quickest escape routes.
Keep up to date on repairs and maintenance
Regular maintenance is one of the best ways to prevent fires at your properties. Perform regular inspections of electrical lines, keeping an eye out for any that look frayed, burned, or otherwise damaged; if you find anything that looks like it could cause a spark, replace the wiring right away. Clean chimneys and have your heaters and other appliances serviced regularly.
Encourage tenants to report issues
Encourage tenants to let you know if they see any issues that could cause a fire. This could be anything from other tenants grilling too close to the unit to dry, flammable landscaping around the building.
Ensure each kitchen has a fire extinguisher
Some ordinances require landlords and property managers to install and regularly inspect fire extinguishers. Regardless of whether this applies to your property, every kitchen should be equipped with a working fire extinguisher. In addition, take the time to explain to tenants how to use them; there are several operating methods available and not knowing how to use the extinguisher properly could put tenants at risk of greater harm during a fire.
Install a sprinkler system
Depending on the age of your property and where it’s located, local codes and laws may require you to have a sprinkler system. Even if it’s not required, sprinklers provide valuable protection against fires. It’s estimated up to 80-90% of home fires could be put out with a single sprinkler before the fire department has time to arrive.
Document your fire prevention methods
When it comes to extensive property damage, fires are at the top of the list. Protect yourself by documenting all the fire prevention methods you’ve put in place.
Check your local fire regulations
Fire regulations for rental properties can vary from one city or county to the next. For example, one city may require smoke detectors in every room, while another may only require them in the kitchen and bedroom. For this reason, landlords and property managers need to know the regulations for the area their properties are located. When in doubt, check with a local fire inspector.
In general, landlords and property managers are required to ensure their properties meet all applicable building codes and that there are fire-escape routes available. They’re also obligated to:
- Repair structural elements
- Create a fire-prevention and evacuation strategy
- Keep all entries and exits free of debris and obstacles
- Respond to repair requests in a timely fashion
- Conduct fire and safety checks regularly
Apartment fires can have a devastating effect on tenants and rental property professionals alike. Beyond dealing with property damage, landlords and property managers may find themselves liable if they haven’t taken the proper preventive measures. Protect yourself and your property by taking every step possible to reduce the risk.
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