Fire Prevention Tips (and Best Practices) for Landlords
According to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), from 2014 to 2018 there were approximately 2,620 civilian deaths; 11,030 civilian fire injuries; and $7.2 billion in direct property damage per year.
There are things the property owner or manager can do to prevent fires and reduce their likelihood, and there are things landlords can explain to their tenants to keep them safe. Fire prevention is yet another reason to maintain a good relationship with tenants because it encourages cooperation.
Remember, your investment is their home; they don't want it to burn down, either!
What Can Landlords Do to Prevent Fire?
These are things landlords can take care of to help prevent fires and reduce potential fire damage.
1. Obey Local Fire Codes
Following local fire codes and ordinances will help you avoid fines, keep your tenants safe, and likely keep you from violating the terms of your landlord insurance. For example, the number of smoke detectors expected a landlord is supposed to install varies from municipality to municipality.
2. Establish House Rules
Make rules of your own that tenants are expected to follow. Write the rules out and distribute them to your tenants when you give them their lease and via email. Explain the rules to your tenants in person since you shouldn't assume they'll read them. If there are children in the household, make sure they are present and learn these lessons.
For example, remind your tenants not to leave sources of heat or flame unattended.
- Heating equipment
- Electrical Fires
3. Conduct Regular Fire Safety Checks
Making sure you have a working smoke alarm and carbon monoxide alarm should be a part of your fire safety inspection. This is also an excellent opportunity to scope out the rented property in general. Check your local fire regulations to see if you’re required to keep a fire alarm in every room or just particular rooms. Consider having a smoke detector/carbon monoxide detector in every room, and a fire alarm system where the detectors in every room go off if any of them goes off.
Smoke detectors should not be more than a decade old, so replace them for new ones as needed. Other than alarms that run on lithium batteries, hardwired detectors have batteries that also need to be replaced every six months.
You can leave replacing batteries to tenants, and remind them to do it when it’s Daylight Savings Time (unless you live in Arizona, where there is no Daylights Savings Time). However, it may be best to conduct these tests yourself. Taking care of such a small errand may also feel like a big perk to your tenant because it will look as though they're getting a freebie and you're taking care of them.
4. Provide Fire Extinguishers
Put fire extinguishers in the kitchen and make sure your tenants know how to use them. Not every fire extinguisher works in the same way! Also, fire extinguishers should be replaced every 12 years.
5. Consider a Fire Blanket
Fire blankets are made out of fire retardant material. Blankets are placed over fires to smother them. They’re particularly useful for small to medium kitchen fires, and can be more useful for those who aren't experienced using fire extinguishers. They should not, however, be used to extinguish an oil/fat fire (like one caused by a deep-fryer) since they may end up covered in burning oil.
6. Consider a Smoking Ban
Smoking is a fire risk. You have the right to prohibit smoking inside or outside your property. If you choose to do so, put it in your lease and inform your tenant verbally. If the stipulation is not in your lease agreement, it cannot be enforced.
Second-hand smoke is a surprising landlord liability, so you should address it in some way in your lease either way. Secondhand smoke can be a nuisance, and grounds for a suit if it disrupts the quality of life of residents with respiratory issues. Smoke can also delay rental property turnover since it can leave an odor, and stain walls.
7. Grilling Rules
You have the right to prohibit grilling. Like a smoking ban, the ban must be in the lease agreement. If you choose not to disallow grilling, then explain grilling best practices and fire risk assessment to your tenants:
- Don't grill too close to home.
- Don't grill on balconies.
- Don't leave grills unattended.
- Make sure grills are properly turned off after use.
- Go over gas safety.
8. Post an Escape Plan
Your escape plan should be clearly explained, posted, and include emergency numbers and contact information. Consider emergency lighting. You should also provide the local natural disaster evacuation routes, as well as tips on how to behave in the event of a fire.
- Stay low to the ground to avoid smoke inhalation.
- Test doorknobs with the back of your hands to avoid being burned,
- Do not spend time saving personal belongings.
- If sheltering from a fire, stuff wet towels under doors to prevent smoke from seeping into a room.
- Call 911 ASAP.
- Stop, drop, and roll.
9. Require Tenants Carry Insurance
Renters’ insurance only costs a couple of hundred dollars a year, but it can help policyholders cover the cost of replacing personal items in the event of a fire, theft, natural disasters, etc.
10. Encourage Tenants to Report Issues
A tenant isn't guaranteed to report an issue, which can be dangerous if it's a fire hazard, water leak, etc. Fostering a positive relationship with tenants and responding to complaints quickly and effectively will encourage them to report issues. An example of an issue may be frayed appliance wiring.
Repair and clean structural components such as fireplaces, chimneys, electrical cables, and plumbing systems. Also consider making fixes to or replacing your HVAC system (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), which, if left unattended, can overheat and result in a fire. It’s also important to routinely check gas appliances, the wiring of your unit, check for overheating, and clean out dirty air filters. These are all potential issues that could result in a house fire but could be easily prevented.
12. Fireproof Your Landscaping
Make sure to follow fire prevention best practices for your landscaping. That includes seasonal maintenance.
- No brush, debris, overgrowth, or tree branches near your home that could catch fire.
- Grass must be no greater than four inches within a perimeter of 100 feet of your property.
- Keep your roof and gutters clean as well.
- Keep a distance between things that can catch fire: trees, shrubs, patio furniture, woodpiles, etc.
- Remove dead trees, shrubs, etc.
- Make sure to allow for room between shrubs and trees because foliage can create an avenue for the fire to move from the ground to the brush, and then to the treetops.
13. Inspect Kitchen Appliances
Your fire safety check should include both a gas safety check and an electrical safety check. Inspect the state of every electrical appliance, even the microwave. Check vents for dust, pet hair, and other debris. Faulty wiring is the cause of many fires, so be on the lookout when conducting your fire safety risk assessment. This is also a good time to consider some property updates to attract qualified tenants. Not waiting for a vacancy to make these upgrades is a gesture that shows tenant appreciation because tenants have an opportunity to make use of the new appliances
14. Install Sprinklers
Residential fire sprinklers can contain and potentially put out a fire in less time than it might take for the fire department to get there. The NFPA reports that fire sprinklers decrease civilian death rate by 81% and reduce civilian injury by 31%. When combined with smoke alarms, fire sprinklers decrease home fire death rates by 90%. Since 2009, more municipalities have been requiring single-family and two-family homes have fire sprinklers, so landlords should check local ordinances.
15. Clear Debris
It’s the responsibility of the landlord or property manager to keep entrances, exits, hallways, and shared spaces free of debris and accessible. Doing so prevents slips and falls, another landlord liability.
To reduce your legal liability at your property, keep track of everything you do to reduce the likelihood of fire. The work it takes to conduct your inspection will count toward the hours necessary to qualify for the yearly 20% QBI deduction.
What Tenants Can Do to Prevent Fires
You should put together a list of fire prevention measures your tenants can take. Make sure to provide a printed copy of the rules , via email or through a tenant portal, and to go over it verbally when any children in the home are also present.
You can break up the list into the following three categories:
- Use surge protectors.
- Don’t overload circuits or extension cords.
- Replace frayed or cracked electrical cords.
- Don’t run cords under rugs or between rooms.
- Don’t put space heaters near flammable things like drapes or bedding.
- Turn off space heaters when leaving the room or sleeping.
- Don’t smoke in bed or leave cigarettes unattended.
- Keep lighters and matches away from children.
- Don’t store flammable materials like gasoline cans or propane tanks in your home.
- Make sure Christmas trees and decorations aren’t near exits or heating sources.
- Plug major appliances right into the outlet.
- Keep fire exits clear.
2. Kitchen Fire Safety
- Don't leave food unattended on the stovetop.
- Keep potholders and towels away from flames.
- Avoid loose-fitting sleeves while cooking.
- Turn any cooking appliances off after using them (stove, oven, etc.).
- Keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen.
- Teach tenants how to use fire safety equipment like extinguishers and blankets. If they don’t know how to use them, then your tenants are actually at risk of harming themselves.
3. Laundry Room Fire Safety
- Have your dryer installed or at least serviced by a professional.
- Don't use the dryer without a lint filter.
- Always clean the lint filter and remove the lint around the drum.
- Make sure the plug and outlet are the right ones and that the connection is proper.
- Don't run the dryer while you're away from the house or sleeping.
Bottom Line on Fire Prevention
Taking as many fire precautions as possible will decrease the likelihood of your investment being destroyed by a fire. Many of these precautions are also acts of maintenance that will keep your investment looking good and increasing in value. .
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