Preventing a fire tragedy in the aftermath of the Bronx inferno
We were horrified and deeply saddened to learn of the Bronx apartment fire that killed 17 and hospitalized 32.
The fire was started by a malfunctioning space heater in the bedroom of a third-floor rental unit. Fire officials say that a maintenance issue with apartment doors that did not close as they were supposed to allowed thick smoke to spread throughout the building.
It is believed that the faulty space heater may have been running uninterrupted for several days and while the heat was working in the apartment, the space heater was used as a supplement during frigid temperatures. The tragedy should stress the importance of providing adequate heating for tenants and recognizing the dangers of space heaters, among other takeaways.
What California law says
Whether stated or not, implied in every California lease is the “implied warranty of habitability,” which means that the rental unit must be in livable condition. California Civil Code 1941.1 spells out that, among other things, landlords must provide “eating facilities that conformed with applicable law at the time of installation, maintained in good working order.”
Local ordinances go farther
In San Francisco, for instance, section 701 of the San Francisco Housing Code dictates that every dwelling unit, guest room, and congregate residence must be provided with heating facilities capable of maintaining a minimum room temperature of 70 degrees 3 feet above the floor in all habitable rooms. Of course, heaters must be installed and maintained in a safe condition.
Even if the permanent heating facilities are in compliance, cold spells still grip the Bay Area. For tenants who like some extra warmth and use space heaters, some safety tips should be imparted:
» Keep the heater at least 3 feet away from anything that can burn, including people.
» Choose a heater with a thermostat and overheat protection.
» Place the heater on a solid, flat surface.
» Make sure your heater has an auto shut-off to turn the heater off if it tips over.
» Keep space heaters out of the way of foot traffic. Never block an exit.
» Keep children away from the space heater.
» Plug the heater directly into the wall outlet. Never use an extension cord.
» Space heaters should be turned off and unplugged when you leave the room or go to bed.
Failure to maintain the rental unit in habitable condition can not only tank an unlawful detainer action or invite a lawsuit. It could be a matter of life and death.
We'd be remiss not to say that whenever you need work on a heating system, it is imperative that you use a licensed and insured contractor.
Hiring a friend of a cousin who is a handyman might be acceptable on a standard sink repair job, but please don't cut any corners when it comes to heating.
Finally, it is alleged that the apartment building in the Bronx was in decrepit condition and, among other findings, lacked smoke or carbon monoxide detectors. We remind landlords and property managers that the inspection of these devices is a permissible reason to enter the rental unit, with proper notice of course.
With this tragedy and the deadly 2016 Ghost Ship fire in Oakland seared into memory, we say in a parting thought that these horrific events can be avoided or mitigated by not letting problems fester, so please be proactive.
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