Everyone wants to turn up the heat and stay warm in their apartment during the frigid days of winter, the early mornings of spring or the cold fall evenings. While the toasty heat feels great, it’s essential to stay safe and avoid a fire in your apartment.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, how we heat our living spaces is largely to blame for the many fires that take place each year. In 2018, there were 86,500 fires in apartment buildings alone in the United States.
Heating your small space is a must, but the right safety precautions have to be in place to avoid a potentially life-threatening catastrophe. Below, we outline a room-by-room guide stating the main causes of apartment fires and how you can prevent one from setting your humble abode ablaze. We’ll also talk about landlord and renter rights and responsibilities when it comes to fire safety.
Fire safety guide
Within minutes, a small fire can spread and grow into a deadly fire. But with a few steps, you can protect yourself, your family, your apartment and your belongings.
First, closely inspect your home to eliminate potential hazards.
Then, use these fire prevention tips and strategies to safeguard your home.
Overall fire safety tips
- Protect your appliances and your home by using surge protectors
- Don’t overload circuits or extension cords
- Check electrical cords for appliances. Cords that are frayed or cracked are potential fire hazards. Unplug the cord immediately and replace it.
- Don’t run cords underneath rugs or between rooms
- Never place portable space heaters near flammable materials, such as drapery or bedding
- Turn off space heaters when leaving the room or going to bed
- Don’t smoke in bed or leave burning cigarettes unattended
- Keep lighters and matches out of reach of children
- Don’t leave candles or incense unattended, and place these items away from drapes, curtains or other flammable materials
- Don’t store flammable materials, such as gasoline cans or a propane tank, in your apartment
Lots of cooking and baking takes place during the cold winter months when the desire for warm, home-cooked meals is at its peak. Don’t deny yourself a hearty feast, just be mindful of how you go about it.
- Remember to never leave food unattended on a stove
- Keep potholders and towels away from the cooking area
- Avoid wearing loose-fitting sleeves when cooking
- Always set a reminder to turn the stove and oven off when you’re finished cooking
- Keep a fire extinguisher nearby in case of an accidental cooking fire
Laundry room safety
If your laundry room is located in your own apartment, follow these safety guidelines. If your laundry room is a communal space, check with your landlord to ensure proper safety measures are in place.
- If possible, have your dryer installed and serviced by a professional
- Avoid using a dryer without a lint filter
- Clean the lint filter before or after each load of laundry, and remove lint that has collected around the drum of your dryer
- Check to make sure the right plug and outlet are used, and make sure the machine is connected properly
- If you leave home or go to bed, turn the dryer off
While a fire can start in any room in your apartment, these are the most common areas for household fires to start. By following these guidelines, you’re helping to decrease the chance of starting a fire in your home.
Taking additional safety measures
In addition to practicing safe habits in each room, you’ll want to ensure you have the proper safety precautions in place. These safety measures can help reduce the risk of a fire and keep everyone safe.
1. Install smoke alarms
Make sure there’s a properly functioning smoke alarm installed in your apartment. To be extra cautious, install a smoke alarm outside of each sleeping area. These alarms can be battery-operated or electrically hardwired in your home.
For renters who have hearing problems, use alarms that include flashing strobe lights and vibration. Test smoke alarms once a month, and replace batteries once a year. An easy reminder is to change the batteries when the clocks spring forward.
2. Place heaters strategically
Fire-related home incidents caused by heating mechanisms largely take place during the winter. As long as you’re using extra measures to heat your apartment, you’re at risk. When using a portable space heater, keep these tips in mind.
- Anything that can melt or burn should be at least three feet away from the heater
- Never leave these small heaters on all day or night, even when you go to sleep
- Children and pets should not be allowed in the same area where portable space heaters are in use
- Follow your space heater’s directions exactly if you’re unsure of its proper operation
3. Be careful with candles
Although they’re not the most effective heating choice, candles are often used to set a soothing atmosphere. They also come in handy when power has been lost. But they’re also known to start fires, particularly when left unattended.
- Blow out candles before going to sleep and any time you leave your apartment
- Keep candles at least one foot away from any other objects
- Always use candle holders and make sure that the surface is flat and away from an edge where it may tip over
- Never use candles if an oxygen tank is in use
- Opt for flashlights instead of candles in case of a power outage
4. Plan an escape route
Though your apartment may be prepared, accidents do occur. Plan an escape route, and if you have roommates, plan for a safe place to meet outside. Have at least two escape routes planned in case one is blocked. If you live in a high-rise or on an upper-level floor, consider purchasing an escape ladder in case the stairs and entryways are blocked.
Additional fire prevention tips
In general, you should be prepared for a fire emergency at all times. It may not happen in your unit, but it could take place right next door. It’s also smart to know what responsibilities and obligations are on the landlord and the renter. We’ve outlined some general information below:
Know the landlord’s responsibilities
In most cases, the landlord should make sure the rental property is in a habitable condition (fit to live and free from hazards) and provide for the necessary maintenance and repairs. Federal and local laws mention the following landlord responsibilities:
- Complying with federal, state and local building codes
- Repairing structural components like the fireplace, chimney, electrical cables and the plumbing system
- Providing defect-free heating and cooling facilities
- Promptly responding to repair and maintenance requests
- Conducting regular fire safety checks
Remember, landlords have the legal duty to adhere to fire safety regulations or risk being penalized by the housing authorities. Knowing the landlord’s safety obligations towards keeping your rented home safe will help protect you from fatal fire accidents.
Know your duties as a renter
Though it’s the landlord’s duty to provide for the tenant’s safety and property maintenance, you’re required to act responsibly when residing in the apartment. The landlord is not responsible for damage caused due to the negligence of you, your family, guests or pets.
If you identify any potential fire hazard, it’s your duty to inform the landlord, enabling them to take timely action. Remember, your landlord can only repair something if they know what’s broken or defective. For instance, though landlords are liable to fit smoke alarms in the apartment, it’s your duty to inspect them on a weekly basis.
The National Fire Alarm Code (NFPA 72) requires smoke alarms to be replaced at least once every 10 years. Be aware of the expiration date of the smoke alarms installed in your apartment and talk to your landlord to get the expired ones replaced. Check for missing or disconnected alarms, dead batteries or low-battery chirps and replace them immediately.
Similarly, fireplaces and chimneys require regular maintenance. According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America, chimney fires are life-threatening and can severely damage the building structure. Make sure your landlord gets the apartment’s chimney and fireplace cleaned and repaired on a regular basis by hiring a reputed chimney cleaning service provider. Also, installing carbon monoxide detectors is a must for rooms with a wood fire.
Finally, when the landlord sends workers to fix the issue, it’s your duty to be responsive and flexible in allowing access to the maintenance staff.
Report all issues in writing
As a tenant, it’s your responsibility to report damages and defects to the landlord in writing or through email. When requesting repairs or maintenance, it’s a good idea to include a brief summary and an image of the problem.
For instance, if your grievance is about the mounting creosote deposits in your chimney flue, include an image showing this in your email, enabling your landlord to hire a chimney cleaning service immediately.
Further, keep records of all the formal complaints you make in this regard. These include documents, such as photographs of the damage, copies of the letters and emails, receipts of repairs undertaken by you, testimonials from professionals who you have hired for repair services, bills of lodging you had to shift into due to the property being uninhabitable and the apartment’s inventory report.
The above-mentioned details will prove to be useful evidence in case of a court proceeding against your landlord.
Be prepared for the worst-case scenario
Although the Landlord and Tenant Act governs the rental agreements for residential properties, each U.S. state has its own landlord-tenant laws with many of the statutes being similar. All landlords are required to comply with federal and state landlord-tenant laws.
If your landlord refuses to make the necessary home repairs and maintenance for fire safety or the problem violates the state’s building and health codes, contact your local housing authority to learn about your state laws and report the issue.
For instance, if your landlord refuses to install a smoke alarm in the rental property, you can ask the local housing authority to take a look at your apartment’s fire safety. The authority will assess the situation and issue a notice to the landlord to install a smoke alarm. If the landlord fails to fix the problem even after receiving the notice, they’ll be penalized by the authorities. Meanwhile, you can make the necessary repairs and deduct the amount from the rent check.
You can also withhold the rent until the corrective measures are taken. Housing authorities in a few states encourage tenants to transfer the rent to an escrow account that will be released once the landlord undertakes the repair and maintenance.
Lastly, if the problem is preventing you from living comfortably in the apartment, you may move out and cancel the rental agreement. You’ll need to present evidence that the property was uninhabitable due to the landlord’s negligence and you vacated the premises in a reasonable time.
Keeping the community safe
Given the high incidences of home fires in the U.S., tenants and landlords should work hand-in-hand to reduce the risk of fire hazards in rented apartments. If you’re planning to shift into or are already living in a rented property, you should be aware of your safety rights and the landlord’s responsibilities. The information shared in this post will serve as an effective guide towards protecting you from fire accidents in your newly-rented apartment.