If you’re a property owner or manager, you face a host of risks on your property every day. And few things can strike terror in the minds of landlords and renters quite like the word “fire.” In multiple-unit buildings with multiple families, a small blaze can quickly turn into a widespread disaster. That kind of disaster could send your business into a financial tailspin.
But if you’ve been negligent in any way about taking appropriate fire safety measures on your rental properties, you may not have to wait for a fire to face a financial crisis.
Just ask the folks at New Hampshire Apartment, Inc. The company owned, maintained, and leased an apartment building in Los Angeles, California, from July 2012 to December 2013. Tenants of that building sued the company several years ago, citing multiple violations including missing or inoperable smoke detectors. And on December 3, 2018, a California appellate court ruled that the company was not entitled to be defended in the lawsuit by its insurance company because it breached its insurance policy by failing to provide working smoke detectors.
In other words, they suffered a financial meltdown without a single spark.
Failing to take appropriate fire safety measures on your property can get you burned in many ways. To avoid this kind of financial disaster, here are five fire safety precautions you should be taking now:
- Understand your legal obligations and the consequences of noncompliance. Laws vary by state and city, but all landlords have certain legal obligations with regard to providing fire safety measures in buildings they own. Failing to comply could mean a devastating fire, loss of property, fines, lawsuits, denial of insurance coverage, or worse. In cases involving renter deaths due to fire when smoke alarms are either missing or inoperative, property owners can be subjected to criminal prosecution and jail time.
- Conduct a thorough fire risk assessment of all properties to identify what potential hazards exist, who’s at risk, and what steps need to be taken to mitigate the risks.
- Properly install and maintain smoke alarms. According to the National Fire Protection Association, smoke alarms should be placed inside each bedroom, just outside each sleeping area, and on every floor of the property. Specific installation regulations vary, so check your state and local fire codes. You also need to conduct regular tests of smoke alarms and regularly remind your tenants to do the same. And don’t forget to replace older smoke alarms every 10 years from the manufacture date in accordance with S. Fire Administration guidelines.
- Place fire safety signs detailing what to do in the event of a fire and the location of fire exits. Place these signs in multiple, conspicuous places. If you’re renting to non-English speakers, make sure all tenants can understand the signs and instructions.
- Get it in writing. Don’t forget to carefully document your fire safety efforts, including installation and maintenance of all smoke alarms and CO detectors in your rentals. Have your tenants sign an agreement to verify your efforts. This documentation will come in handy if you’re ever asked to prove you haven’t been negligent.
Staying on top of fire safety is a vital part of your responsibility as a landlord, and it’s a small price to pay to ensure the safety of your tenants, your property, and your bottom line. To learn more about protecting your rental properties, contact the insurance professionals at BNC Agency today.