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If you actually did all the things that the pundits say you should do, to the level of detail and thoroughness they demand, you would probably die of old age before you ever rented an apartment.  We will not pretend that this is the most important topic you will ever read about, but it is important.  Implementing the few tips we give will make your rental units safer, and your investment more secure, and without the investment of a great deal of time.

Fire is the most devastating threat to any structure, but particularly to multi-unit dwellings.  The risk of fire is ever present.  It can occur without perceptible warning and as a result of innocent, though perhaps negligent, acts.  The residential fireís effect on life and property is always appalling.  The National Safety Council says that 3700 people were injured or killed in home fires in the US during 1998.  While that may not be a lot in the big scheme of things, it is still a lot.  Even if there is a fire and no one dies, the impact on lives, though limited in geographical scope, is comparable to the great natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes.  A fire started in one apartment unit can place a dozen or more families in the street bereft of all their worldly possessions.  A few simple steps can limit this risk.

The big variable in fire risk is what the tenants decide to do in the privacy of their rental units.  We take it for granted that the areas the landlord controls are up to code, free of debris and with flammable materials properly stored, and that such fire prevention, detection, and fighting appliances as are located in common areas are in working order.  The pesky tenants, though, have an annoying tendency to lead their lives as they choose.  Even so, a little time spent in education at the closing together with a modest effort at follow up throughout the year, can accomplish a lot.

Here are some of the things you can do to minimize your fire risk.

        Equip your units with smoke detectors, properly placed and maintained.  Make the tenant responsible for replacing the batteries and testing, then show him how to do it.  It only takes a minute and will break down most of the resistance to maintaining the detector.  Twice a year, at six-month intervals, send a reminder to each tenant that it is time to replace the batteries.  In the case of elderly or disabled tenants, offer to do it for them.  When you enter the unit on other business, check the smoke detectors to see that they are doing their job.  Encourage your tenants to report non-functioning detectors, emphasizing that there will be no repercussions to doing so.  If you find non-functioning detectors, counsel the tenant on their importance.

        If your rental is equipped with a fireplace or a wood stove, take a minute to talk about it.  Show the tenant how to work the damper in the fireplace and the features on the wood stove.  Supply fireplace tools, instead of assuming the tenant will do so.  The new residents will be anxious to have that first cozy fire and may do so before they go to the hardware store to buy what they need.  Put the tools on the unitís inventory and charge against the deposit if they turn up missing.  Do not neglect the chimney.  You might consider having it swept yourself, and factoring the cost into the rent, rather than relying on the tenant to do it.

        Supply a fire extinguisher for the kitchen.  A great many fires start there.  Be sure this item also is on the inventory.  Show the tenant how to check it and how it works.

        Point out the danger of overloading electrical outlets.  During the walk through, point them all out and encourage the tenant to use them in preference to octopuses and extension cords.

        Encourage the tenants to report apparent fire hazards in the common areas.  You cannot be present all the time, and a fire hazard does not have to be around long to become a fire.

        Recommend that the tenants buy insurance on the contents of their rental units.  Include a clause in your rental agreements informing the tenants that you are not responsible for the contents of their units if there is a fire.  When the rental agreement is signed, supply a list of three insurance agents who deal in tenantsí policies, without recommending any one of them.

        When the new tenant takes possession, supply him a copy of the on-line pamphlet available from the Michigan Professional Fire Fighters Union.  This item is in a total of four parts, and can be printed out and distributed as needed.  Do not neglect to supply a copy to existing tenants.

Having done these things, the final step is to keep your eyes open.  When you make visits to the rental, look at it with an eye to fire safety.  In this way, you may be able to avoid the fire catastrophe, with luck.  In any event, you will need far less luck to do it.

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