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Renter safety is a landlord's obligation

The news has been filled lately with sad stories of death and injury due to fires in rental housing in New York. One story making headlines involves a Buffalo family that lost three of its members, including an 8-year-old girl, in a 2016 house fire. Loved ones sued the Brooklyn-based landlord for negligence and won a default judgment now worth $5.4 million. According to The Buffalo News, they're still waiting payment.

Meanwhile, in Harlem, a couple is seeking $7 million because of a fire destroyed the couple's rent-controlled apartment and all their belongings. A firefighter died at the scene. The suit names the landlord, claiming "reckless, careless and negligent" building. Also named in the suit is a movie production company that was using the building as a film set. The suit says movie crew workers knew about the fire but didn't inform residents.

The film company denies any wrongdoing. Whether that is the case is something that apparently remains undetermined. In the case of the landlord, the suit claims the building had no smoke alarms or fire extinguishers. If that is indeed true, New York city law suggests the lawsuit may well have legs.

The city housing maintenance code sets minimum standards that oblige landlords to ensure the health and safety of tenants. Those relating to fire safety include the provision of:

  • Self-closing doors: Openable from inside without a key.
  • Clear exits: Fire escapes, hallways, or any building entrance must be unobstructed.
  • Smoke alarms: While provided by the landlord, tenants are expected to test them monthly and maintain them.
  • Fire escape plan: Printed displays must be given to every new tenant, be posted on apartment and common area doors. They must also be reissued every year during fire prevention week in October.

Whether your apartment injury is serious or seemingly minor, if it involved landlord negligence, you deserve to be aware of your legal options for possible compensation.

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