Most cases involving injuries suffered in premises fires involve duties owed to tenants by landlords that have been breached and result in a fire and loss of life or property. For example, in many situations landlords have a duty to provide a charged and operational fire extinguisher, and a properly mounted smoke detector. Many lease agreements will spell out these obligations in detail. Many lease agreements even go so far as to require that tenants give permission to the landlord to come into the leased premises at any time to service a supplied smoke detector and a supplied fire extinguisher.
Further, when fire safety equipment is provided by a landlord, a landlord either must post instructions for fire protection equipment maintenance and operation, or otherwise provide tenants with these instructional materials. Not having access to installation and maintenance instructions for a smoke detector can limit the ability of a lessee to question whether their apartment smoke detector is mounted as indicated by the manufacturer, and might keep lessees from questioning whether their supplied fire extinguisher is functioning and fully charged as recommended by the manufacturer.
Indiana courts recognize that a landlord can assume a duty by contract, and be held liable for physical harm caused to his lessee by a condition of disrepair existing before or arising after the lessee has taken possession or the property if the state of disrepair creates an unreasonable risk to persons upon the land which the performance of the lessor’s agreement would have prevented, and the lessor fails to exercise reasonable care to perform his contract. Contractually agreeing to provide a fire extinguisher and smoke detector, then failing to provide one or both, equals the presentation of property to a tenant in a state of disrepair and subjects the tenant to unreasonable risk of harm. It is similar to tendering an apartment that the landlord knows has a floor eaten aware in large part by termites and ready to collapse at any time.
Further, the requirement to provide tenants with a safe environment in the context of fire prevention and fire safety may be breached if:
- a smoke alarm is improperly placed in an apartment too far from bedrooms and too close to kitchen contrary to manufacturer specifications
- a smoke alarm is placed in the kitchen only and is ineffective to sound an alert to a family asleep in bedrooms
- no fire suppression systems exist in the apartment (either hand extinguishers, or range hood mounted extinguishers) at the time of the fire
- no escape routes are marked in the apartment on the back of the entrance door to the apartment, or anywhere in the building
- no sprinklers were provided, when laws or ordinances required sprinklers to suppress any fires
If you or someone you care about has been injured as a result of a lapse in fire hazard prevention, please consult one of our attorneys experienced in handling such cases.