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When off-campus rental housing proves to be a death trap: Part II

Earlier this week, we began a discussion about a recently filed wrongful death lawsuit. A young woman from Brooklyn left New York to attend Boston University. In April 2013, she died in a house fire in her off-campus rental property.

The 22-year-old student named Binland was likely the victim of landlord negligence. Her family’s lawsuit accuses both the landlord and rental brokers of renting an apartment that was not up to code.

A recent Boston Globe article contains a comprehensive review of the property’s history and all of the safety problems it allegedly had. Perhaps the two most notable problems were lack of exits on the third floor (where Binland’s room was) and a fire-detection system that was either malfunctioning or inadequate.

According to the article, the house was originally had six bedrooms, but the space was altered to accommodate 12 bedrooms. Some of the 14 residents were even living in the basement, which had been cited as illegal many years earlier.

Binland was living on the third floor. Local fire codes required two “means of egress” (two ways out), but there was only one; a staircase. By the time that smoke alarms sounded on the third floor, the stairway was blocked by flames and smoke.

She may have been able to escape if she had received an early warning of the fire. However, the fire-detection system was either not interconnected throughout the house or it simply malfunctioned. In either case, it did not have a required city permit.

Other third-floor residents resorted to jumping out third-story windows and suffered significant injuries as a result. Binland was later found near her bedroom window with burns covering 99 percent of her lifeless body.

The problems leading to Binland’s death now seem obvious. But dangerous buildings like this one often remain in operation because they appear to comply with safety codes and may not get inspected often enough. Commenting on this case, the Boston Fire Lieutenant noted that the second way out was supposed to be a living room with a sliding-glass door leading out to a deck. He said: “On paper there were two means of egress. In reality, [one] was a bedroom.”

When slumlords rent out dangerous properties to cash-strapped college students, they are motivated by greed and the prospect of easy money. But tragedies like this one remind us that cutting corners to make money can have much higher costs in the future.

Source: The Boston Globe, “ Family of BU student killed in fire prepares lawsuit,” Jenn Abelson, Aug. 20, 2014

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