Fire safety review is important for landlords.
Last year we had scores of members concerned with the safety and care of not only their property but their tenants. With hurricanes, large forest fires and floods presenting major challenges they vowed to take a more active approach in preparing for disaster.
But with a new year comes new resolutions and often times last year’s priorities never get followed up with, for example, when was the last time you reviewed fire safety with your tenants? Is it a part of your on-boarding process or do you rely on the common sense of your tenants? Better yet, when was the last time you reviewed your fire safety responsibilities as a landlord?
Fire safety and protecting your property
This is the big one, you will almost assuredly be required by law to provide these. There are two types of detectors, ionization and photoelectric, and each have benefits over the other in certain situations. Depending on your location, you may be required to provide one type over another, or possibly both.
If you’re buying new detectors or replacing old ones, you should probably choose a detector that does both for added peace of mind and to make sure you’re covered in case regulations become more strict or change. Smoke detectors are also powered in different ways. Some hook into the property’s wiring while others operate solely on battery power. Wired detectors usually need to also contain a backup battery in case of power failure, unless the property’s electrical system has its own backup. Battery powered detectors will run off of a replaceable alkaline battery (usually 9 volts) or a non-replaceable lithium battery that is good for the life of the detector.
No matter which types you install, smoke detectors should be:
- Installed on every level of the property
- Installed inside each sleeping area and in the hallway outside
- Tested every month
- Have their backup batteries replaced every year
- Replaced entirely when recommended, most likely no later than every 10 years
Carbon monoxide (CO) detectors:
CO detectors are increasingly being required by some states and local governments.
They detect a gas that can’t be seen or smelled but is deadly when inhaled at certain concentrations or for extended periods of time. If any product or appliance in the house burns a type of fuel (i.e. natural gas, propane, wood, charcoal, etc.), then it gives off CO which needs to be vented properly. Since a leak or other problem can’t be detected any other way, it is important to install CO detectors if such a device might be used in your property. The installation and maintenance procedures concerning CO detectors are practically the same as for smoke detectors. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has a lot of good information concerning CO detectors and their installation that you may want to read.
Make sure there’s a way out:
Once your tenants or other occupants have been alerted to a danger, they need to be able to leave the property.
This means that every living area should have a safe means of egress to the outside. That shouldn’t be a problem unless you have security bars on the windows or a multi-story property. If there are security bars, there needs to be some method of quick release accessible from the inside. Even if there aren’t, make sure windows are not stuck and open easily. If there are living areas above the first floor, each room needs to have a way to exit through a window and safely reach the ground. Unless there is already a fire escape attached to the building, the easiest way to provide an exit from the upper stories is a collapsible fire escape ladder. They should be long enough to reach the ground and evaluated by a recognized testing laboratory.
Not everyone can be expected to be able to mentally or physically use a fire extinguisher, which is why getting people away from a dangerous situation is always the highest priority. However, some fires are initially minor and easy to extinguish when caught immediately, so why not provide a way to prevent unnecessary damage to your property? Fire extinguishers are classified by the types of fire they are able to put out with the following capital letters:
A – regular flammable materials such as plant and plastic-based
B – flammable liquids such as oils
C – electrical fires
D – flammable metals (found in factories)
K – cooking fats and oils (found in commercial kitchens)
While class K extinguishers are making their way into the residential market, your property should be adequately covered by an extinguisher that handles A, B, and C fires. Be sure to install the extinguisher in an easily accessible location near the most likely place a fire may start.
In most cases, that would probably be near the kitchen, but wood-burning stoves and fireplaces would also merit attention. Fire extinguishers also require maintenance. Visually inspect the pressure gauge, body, and hose of the extinguisher regularly. The gauge should show the pressure to be within the correct range. There should be no cracks, dents, or rust anywhere else. The manufacturer’s instructions should alert you to any other necessary maintenance. You should probably get the extinguisher professionally tested at regular intervals. Have it replaced when it is no longer serviceable.
Other things to check:
Look out for possible electrical issues and have them professionally diagnosed and fixed.
Switches that sizzle or pop when turned on could be a symptom of wiring problems.
Likewise, outlets that no longer work and have discoloration or burn marks near them hint towards possibly larger issues.
While you’re at it, make sure all light bulbs are an appropriate wattage for their sockets. This is not as big an issue in the era of CFLs. However you don’t want the last 100 watt incandescent bulb in America burning down your livelihood.
If the property has a chimney, you should make sure that it is cleaned regularly. If there is a clothes dryer, make sure the lint trap is being cleaned. Make sure there are no kinks in the ducting. Basically, have a critical eye towards anything that produces flame, heat, or electricity.
And when in doubt, just have it looked at or replaced, the cost is much less in the long run.