If you’re a property owner, there are probably a few things that keep you awake at night. Late rent could be one, empty units might be another, maybe even the prospect of impending winterization. But one thought above all else should occupy a significant portion of your daily mental RAM:
The safety of your tenants.
And on the list of things that could endanger your tenants’ safety, fire should be right at the top. Apartments and hotels account for the top two categories of high-rise fires. Fires in hotels and motels alone injure an estimated 150 people each year and result in an average of 15 deaths, not to mention over $75 million in lost and damaged property.
So what can be done?
Are you worried about that burnt-dinner smell wafting through the fourth floor each week? Do you suspect the college girls in 524 are letting their candles burn out at night? You can (and should) post all the regulations you want about reducing fire hazards, but face-to-face communication can be one of your most effective fire protection systems. If you have any concerns about your tenants’ activities and the impact of those activities on the safety of the rest of the building, knock on their door. Have a conversation. Make some eye contact. A note under the door can only say so much — but a personal connection could help drive home the urgency of fire safety compliance.
There are many aspects of fire safety and prevention over which tenants have no control whatsoever. That’s where you come in. As property manager, you’re responsible for the systems that keep your tenants safe and secure, specifically in the fire prevention stages. As with so many potential disasters, early detection is critical. Annual fire alarm inspections and testing (with semi-annual visual fire alarm inspections) can help make sure your system is in good working order for early fire detection. And be sure that you are obeying your own fire safety regulations. Management should always set the example.
Sadly, not all accidents can be prevented. When the unforeseeable happens, you need to be sure that all the right systems are in place to ensure timely and efficient evacuation, effective suppression, and minimal property damage.
- Evacuation routes should be posted on every floor. They should be clear, concise, and unmistakable. If you manage an apartment complex, schedule monthly fire drills so tenants know their best evacuation routes.
- Suppression systems should be up-to-date and regularly inspected. Just as fire alarm inspections should be a monthly habit, so too should your assessment of whatever suppressive measures you have in place.
Keeping your suppression systems operating at peak efficiency can also help minimize water damage in case in the event of an unforeseeable fire. Fire hoses used by the fire department can release five to ten times more water than quick-response sprinkler systems. So not only are your sprinklers a great first line of defense, but they can reduce the likelihood of costly water damage after a fire.
Not every accident is preventable. But you can tip the odds in your favor when it comes to fire safety. Strong communication, reliable equipment, and a healthy dose of worst-case-scenario planning can keep you, your tenants, and your building as safe as can be for years to come.