The Hidden Danger: The Role of Negligent Maintenance in FireOutbreaks

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The attorneys at Ronemus & Vilensky prepare every case as if it were going to trial, whether you go to trial or not. If the insurance company does not offer a fair settlement, we will be prepared to take the case to court.

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You do everything you can to maintain a safe home environment and are vigilant about taking measures to eliminate hazards, including the possibility of a fire. You make sure all appliances are off, position space heaters away from anything that can burn, blow out candles, look around for any frayed wiring, and much more.

However, home safety is not only your responsibility. It is also the responsibility of the property manager or landlord of your apartment building. Unfortunately, too often, negligent maintenance by the property owner and landlord is the root cause of many fire outbreaks, especially in the New York boroughs of the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan.

Fire Safety Responsibility of Property Owners, Landlords

Anyone who rents apartments to tenants has a legal duty of care to tenants to keep the building safe from preventable hazards. If a landlord fails to protect renters against fires, he or she may face significant fines for violating the New York City housing code. However, unless the tenants report these offenses, the city will remain unaware of them.

Here are several building maintenance issues to look for:

Self-Closing, Fire-Proof Doors: While most tenants think about their doors only during an unexpected lockout, entrance doors must automatically close behind you. During a fire, self-closing and fire-proof doors keep fire and smoke from spreading across apartments and floors. Because smoke inhalation is the leading cause of fire-related deaths, self-closing doors help save lives. Failure to supply and maintain self-closing doors in a building with three or more residential units is the most severe infraction of the New York City housing code (known as a “Class ‘C’ violation”). Landlords must keep self-closing doors in all public common areas and post clear signage warning renters not to prop them open.

Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Landlords must supply and install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in all apartment units and communal areas. Many manufacturers now produce combination smoke and CO detectors, so double-check to ensure your building and apartment have both. Some landlords may try to charge you, but regardless of who ultimately pays the bill, the owner is still liable for installing smoke and CO detectors. Failure to pay these fees cannot result in eviction.

Clear the Building Exits and Fire Escapes: Garbage or debris piling near exit doors or on fire escapes is also considered a housing code violation, even if the materials obstructing the path belong to building inhabitants. While many renters who lack green space utilize fire escapes to grow plants or place outdoor furniture, landlords are legally required to keep these areas clear for everyone’s safety. Remember that you cannot put an air conditioning unit in a fire escape window and you should not lock the fire escape window gates.

Stove Knob Covers: To avoid a gas leak that could cause a building-wide explosion, property owners must give stove knob covers to any family with a gas stove and a child under the age of six. These knobs keep toddlers from tampering with the knobs and releasing hazardous gas.

What are the real-life consequences of negligence in property maintenance? Fatalities and injuries.

When property owners and landlords fail to meet this duty of care, they expose themselves to premises liability lawsuits.

For example, look at a case we are handling in which a fire in a high-rise building in the Bronx killed 17 people, including eight children. The fire was exacerbated due to defective safety measures. A class-action lawsuit filed in 2022 by attorney Robert Vilensky on behalf of the residents alleges negligence on the part of the owners, including the failure of self-closing doors. The lawsuit also accuses the owners of failing to ensure the smoke detectors within each apartment and on the premises were functioning. The building also did not have an intercom or sprinkler system, among other issues.

What Happens If the Landlord Is Lax About Fire Safety?

Take swift action if your landlord doesn’t respond to your safety concerns. Organize your neighbors to file a 311 complaint. Repeatedly call the city of New York to get inspectors out to the property. Calling 311 and reporting violations to New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development creates a record of fire-related violations in your building. Also, consider filing a complaint with the New York City Fire Department (FDNY).

What to Do in the Event of a Fire

In the event of a fire, call 911 immediately. Check the doorknob before opening it, as heat indicates a blaze behind the door, so you’ll know whether it’s safe to open it during a fire. Be sure you know where the exit doors and stairs are on your floor. Don’t take the elevator. If there’s smoke in the hallway, keep low to the ground. If you can’t leave the apartment, put wet towels, rags, bedding, or tape under your doors. Cover any vents in your apartment to help limit smoke from coming in.

If you or a family member are injured, get immediate medical attention. Also, call Ronemus & Vilensky. We are among the most accomplished and experienced personal injury attorneys in New York City.

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