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Law Office of Cohen & Jaffe, LLP

Home Fires: A Serious Risk That Deserves Attention from Landlords and Residents

House fires claim seven lives every day in America. In fact, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), 1 in 320 households reported a house fire accident during a 5-year period. This remarkable statistic warrants careful planning and precautions on the part of homeowners, renters, and landlords.

The weather is cooling off, and the winter season is just around the corner. As New Yorkers begin making preparations for winter, it is important to consider how simple measures can make a difference in home safety. Here are a few suggestions to help landlords and tenants make home a safer place this winter.

Home Fire Safety Tips

The National Fire Protection Association suggests certain basic steps for making a home safer. These include:

  • Be careful cooking. Always turn off the stove and use a timer.
  • Do not place space heaters directly in front of curtains, and always turn them off before bed.
  • Take your cigarettes and cigars outside. Smoking in the house is one of the leading causes of house fires.
  • Lock up your matches and keep children away from them.
  • Inspect electrical cords.
  • Have an evacuation plan. Landlords in charge of larger buildings may be required to make this part of their building plans.
  • Install sprinklers.
  • Install and test smoke and fire detectors.

Fire Alarm and Signal Systems

In New York, many buildings are required to have fire alarm and signal systems. While not every residence requires this, as a landlord you must know whether any of your properties do. A few examples of properties that do require such systems are:

  • Hotels and motels
  • Day cares
  • Health clubs
  • Single-room occupancy of 15 or more units

Just because the law does not require the use of these systems does not mean that you should not consider them. In fact, it is always better to be on the safe side. The safety of tenants is almost always worth the extra cost. There are many other types of residences that would require these types of alarm systems, so if in doubt, check the law and consult an experienced premises liability lawyer who knows New York safety laws.

Smoke Detectors

This may seem like common sense, but you may be shocked by how many landlords try to put the responsibility for smoke detectors on their tenants. According to New York law, ever since 1982, smoke detectors have been required in almost all residential buildings. The law has a number of exceptions and complex provisions, but to be certain, if you are renting from a reputable landlord in New York, you should have smoke detectors installed in your property.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, carbon monoxide poisoning kills about 170 people each year. This often happens when a person is sleeping and inhales the toxic gas. It has no odor and makes no noise while leaking into the room. The person simply does not wake up.

Less familiar than the classic fire and smoke detectors of old, carbon monoxide devices are designed to detect the subtle presence of carbon monoxide in the room. Often called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is created by incomplete combustion, such as what is found in gas furnaces, kerosene heaters and oil or coal-burning boiler systems. For this reason, if you have a typical natural gas furnace, as many people in New York do, your property should be outfitted with a carbon monoxide detector. Otherwise, you could be poisoned while sleeping. Moreover, not only is it a great idea to have carbon monoxide detectors installed, it is also the law in many cases.

Snuff Out the Candles

Candles cause many of the deaths associated with home fires every year. This is because many of these fire incidents occur in the bedroom, according to the NFPA. People often use candles to relax after a long day or even to set the mood for a romantic dinner or evening with a loved one. Sadly, they are so relaxing that many people fall asleep leaving them burning.

A house pet knocking over a candle can cause a fire, because the resident is not awake to put it out until it has grown too large to contain. Also, flames can catch curtains and other flammable items on fire.

Candles are also a favorite of teenagers and younger children, as well as matches. If you have a gas stove, you likely have kitchen matches too. While new lighters are now designed to replace traditional matches, many people still prefer to use the old kitchen matches to light the range or oven. Similarly, gas water heaters and furnaces require a pilot to be lit before use. You should consider using lighters instead of matches, especially if you have young children at home. In any case, you should lock up any matches and lighters and keep them out of the reach of children.

Maintain Fireplaces and Wood-Burning Stoves

Many apartments and homes in New York have functional fireplaces and wood stoves. While these can help keep heating costs down in the winter, they should be used only if they are maintained properly and regularly inspected. Your landlord should ensure that every year a professional cleans and sweeps them prior to the winter season. The flumes should be checked to ensure they are in working order, and any covers, gates, screens, and utensils should be in proper working order as well.

If your lease requires you to maintain these items, you should do so. If, however, you do not wish to use the fireplace or wood stove, you should discuss this with your landlord and never use them unless and until you are certain they are acceptable for use. An improperly maintained or clogged flume can cause harmful carbon monoxide and smoke to billow into your home and even result in a fire.

Perform Regular Safety Inspections

Finally, if you are a homeowner, you should create a safety checklist for each season. At a minimum, you should have a spring and winter checklist. The spring list should include items such as turning off the furnace and snuffing the pilot, making sure all windows function well after the long winter, checking to make sure all fireplace flumes are closed and cleaned, and making sure any fire equipment is properly inspected and charged. Landlords should follow a similar routine.

Unfortunately, people are injured every year in Long Island fire accidents. If you have been injured by a negligent landlord or property manager or lost everything in a house fire due to someone else’s careless disregard for your safety, contact an experienced premise liability lawyer at the Law Office of Cohen & Jaffe LLP who knows how to handle your case and get you the justice you deserve.

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