This past week there was a terrible tragedy in one of the markets we serve in Northern NY. In Watertown, NY a father and his four daughters ranging from 4 years old to 14 perished in a fire in their rental home. Some pots were left on the stove (and we’ve all done it, we’ve all been there in that moment of forgetfulness), and the family couldn’t get out as they were all sleeping in their beds. It happened at 1:30am. One daughter managed to escape to a neighbors’ house for help and we can’t begin to imagine what that thirteen year old girl is going through emotionally and physically right now. Our hearts go out to this family and the community there.
The incident begs the question, who’s responsible? I was asked this on one of my weekly radio show segments on Froggy in Watertown. People very quickly want to point fingers when something like this happens and let us remember the first priority in remembering the lives tragically cut short here. Secondly, it depends on the conditions of the lease that the renter signed with the landlord of the rental home. This was a single family home they were renting. The smoke detectors had their batteries removed. What we don’t know is, did the father remove the batteries at some point because they were constantly being set off (we’ve all done this a time or two as well), or were there never batteries to begin with – and what were the terms of the lease. Who was responsible for what and for providing what, etc.
If I’m a landlord, even if I’m renting a single family house, I’m going to make sure there’s operating smoke/fire detectors, CO2 detectors and natural gas/propane detectors. Most rental properties now are hardwired for the very reason stated earlier – people remove the batteries or batteries die. With a hardwired system obviously that removes those challenges.
Today most states require when you’re even purchasing a property, you can’t close on the home if they don’t have functioning smoke and CO2 detectors. In this case again, whether there’s a legal liability depends on what that lease said, what was agreed to, and circumstances we can’t really know at this point. You always want to take your detectors and their proper working condition very seriously. They’re there for a reason. You should have more than one for sure. At a minimum one on every level and in some cases it never hurts to have more than one on each level, outside each major area and bedroom/hallway.
Technology and options
If you want to take your home safety to a higher level I’ve done it with my home – through my thermostat. There’s a combination of smoke/fire and CO2 detection integrated right into my thermostat on each level of my home. Then it’s all tied into an app on my phone. It tells me everything, including if my batteries need replacing and whether they’re all functioning properly. There are even ways to fully tie into your home’s WiFi if you have it. If you are open to using technology to support you in this way, it’s a very good and helpful idea. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And there’s no cure for what happened in Watertown last week. Again, our sympathies and support go to the families affected and to that community.
Stanley Law Offices has offices in Syracuse, Watertown, Binghamton, Rochester, and Montrose, PA. 1-800-608-3333. You can also email your questions directly to [email protected]. There for you.