Fire Prevention Week is October 4-10 this year, but landlords shouldn't wait until then to put precautions in place to keep their tenants and properties safe in case of a fire.
The laws vary by state as to what landlords are minimally required to do for fire safety for their residential or commercial buildings. However, there are certain safety practices that responsible landlords will implement nonetheless. Here are some safety tips for landlords and their rental properties:
Maintain appliances. Many home fires start because of faulty appliances. In fact, the Electrical Safety Foundation International reports that over 50,000 electrical fires happen every year, resulting in around $1.3 billion in property damage.
Repair or replace heaters. Heaters and radiators should all be working properly so as not to overheat. When tenants move in, remind them that heating elements should be kept uncovered and away from any flammable materials, including furniture.
Clean chimneys. Working fireplaces are not commonly found in rentals. But if you have one in yours, make sure the chimney is clear to avoid a fire hazard.
Test smoke detectors. Smoke detectors should be tested regularly. Tenants should also know what they sound like so there's no confusion if the alert comes on. No smoke detector should be more than a decade old, so swap them for new ones accordingly. Unless the alarm is run by a lithium battery, in general, hardwired detectors have batteries that should also be replaced every six months; remind your tenants each time we turn the clocks ahead/back each year for Daylight Saving Time.
Install a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. The U.S. Fire Administration reports that half of fires start in the kitchen. A small fire extinguisher in the kitchen is a good safety precaution in any home -- and especially in your rental.
Consider a ban on smoking. This is one to check the state laws on, but depending on where you live, you may have the right to ban smoking in your rental property. This is not merely a health concern: The National Fire Protection Association reports that 5% of home fires are started by smoking.
Keep hallways and stairways free and clear. Prohibit your tenants from storing their bicycles or any other belongings -- even shoes -- in the hallways or in the stairwells. Hallways should have clear access at all times in case of an emergency.
Clearly mark all exit routes. Exit routes -- which become escape routes in emergencies -- should be clearly marked. Pathway lighting in large apartment buildings is one way of directing people toward the exits, but signs with glow-in-the-dark letters or even tape can work well for smaller buildings.
Maintain fire escapes. Ensure that fire escapes are working properly. Tenants should not be using them as illegal terraces or decorating them in any way -- if at all -- that would prevent someone from using them safely to escape a fire.
Hold fire drills. Have one both in the day and the night with clear instructions on how to exit the building in case of a fire. This is especially important in large apartment complexes with multiple exits. Inform your tenants well in advance which exit is theirs so stairways won't become jammed with people.
The bottom line
Landlords should refer to state and federal guidelines to keep their rental properties in compliance with fire safety regulations. Fines are possible if there are violations -- but more importantly, lives are at stake if proper precautions aren't implemented.