Tenant Fire Escape Planning 101 for Landlords

October is Fire Prevention Month and Fire Prevention Week runs October 7th-13th. This commemorates the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, but more so offers us the opportunity to ensure our preparedness measures are in effect at home. Be sure to pass along the FEMA flyer with helpful safety tips for tenant/occupant fire escape planning tips: https://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/publications/two_ways_out_infographic.pdf (click on the title to auto enable hyperlink to FEMA infographic or copy and past this address into your browser)

As a landlord, you can assist tenants by creating a fire escape plan depicting at least two ways out of each bedroom in your rental unit.

It doesn't need to be really fancy, but a basic floor plan schematic with all available exits and fire safety related equipment (smoke detectors, escape ladders, fire extinguishers, etc.) should be posted during a change in tenancy (we put them in a Dollar Store frame and hang them in an inconspicuous space). Additionally, the same type of floor plan drawing is very useful when detailing walk-thru defects, such as wall or floor covering damages, etc.--helping to support a case for determining whether or not post tenancy repairs are due to pre-existing conditions or tenant-caused damages/neglect.

Portable Fire Extinguishers Increase Risk to Tenants and Your Bottom Line

Fire is fast! In less than 30 seconds a small flame can turn into a major fire. Smoke and toxic gases from a home fire kill more people than flames. Every home needs fire protection and a plan for escape. Part of this protection includes safety equipment, but, what about portable fire extinguishers?

Many landlords assume they have to provide one or more portable fire extinguishers in their single-family rental units; however, this is not a requirement and we do not recommend doing so.

To begin with, enabling tenants to "fight" a fire almost never ends well, and giving them the means to do so is actually counter to the safety messages put forth from the National Fire Protection Association, as well as city and county fire departments--all of which stress the importance of getting out of a burning structure as soon (and as safely) as possible. Another draw back is that most people (especially children) have not operated a fire extinguisher and are universally incapable of using one properly or gauging the level of danger involved in fighting a fast-spreading fire. Voluntarily providing a fire extinguisher unduly encumbers the landlord to maintain and periodically replace this device--adding to nuisance maintenance costs (for "accidental discharges") and material replacement of post-tenancy missing equipment (these frequently get packed up on move-out day), etc.

An excerpt from Baltimore County Code § 35-5-213. - FIRE SAFETY AND PROTECTION. (b) Fire protection.
(1) The property owner shall maintain all fire protection systems and equipment in proper operating condition at all times.
(4) If a housing unit is equipped with portable fire extinguishers, the property owner shall keep the fire extinguishers visible and accessible and maintained in an efficient and safe operating condition.

Because fire grows and spreads so rapidly, the #1 priority for residents is to get out safely. Providing fire extinguishers creates extra cost and may actually serve to endanger the occupants--including curious children that may be playing with them.

Landlords, Get Emergency Help to Your Tenants Faster!

As a landlord or property manager, there are many requirements that, because they may seem so obvious, we just don’t think about them. But ask yourself, “Can a paramedic, firefighter, or policeman find my tenant’s house quickly—day or night?” Even with GPS-aided dispatch, it can be hard to figure out which entry doors go to which house during a typical service call, much less in an emergency. When seconds count, why risk it?

The safety requirements are that individual homes and suites within structures shall clearly identify their numeric address (usually near front/rear exterior entrances or service corridors). The Arabic numbers or English alphabetic letters must be a minimum of 3 inches tall and shall be of a color that contrasts with the background of their mounting surface.

Helpful Tip: The addressing of the mailbox, if within a reasonable distance from the front entrance door, can suffice—as long as the size and contrasting color requirements are met. Consider using a strong flashlight to make sure they are clearly visible from the street at night.

This is a relatively easy, quick job using simple hand tools (unless the mounting service is masonry or other difficult to penetrate cladding). Most hardware aisles have these numbers in stock, just make sure you get the right sizes and color, and make sure that they will securely mount to the surface they will be placed on. We suggest mounting in areas that are easy to spot from the road and which are mounted near the property entry doors at a level high enough (60-80 inches) to prevent them from being reached by curious children, being knocked off the wall due to impacts with furnishings and appliances, etc.

Our inspectors check for these requirements during the required rental inspection—just one of many items that others may overlook because they are not clearly identified on most rental property inspection checklists. If we notice a problem--particularly one that increases your potential liability in a tenant dispute--we’ll discreetly bring that out in the recommended maintenance items for your consideration. It’s one more way we help out our fellow landlords.

When it Comes to Bidding on Investment Property, Elsa Offers Sage Advice

If you have small kids, then you know all about Let It Go!   Yeah, come at me Walt!  Come at me!

Anyway, the phrase should be used much more often than it is in the high speed, lunacy filled world of property auctions.  If you're ready for some Arkie wisdom, read on.

If you're still bidding hotly during the last minutes of the auction, particularly if you're above your predetermined maximum, then you need to let it go!

Get a clue!  There's a reason why auctions get extended voluntarily and it's to take advantage of the undisciplined, win-at-all-costs crowd.  I've seen a lot a $ lost this way, and almost anyone is susceptible (the truck I'm driving now reminds me of this every day).  Beware and don't let the excitement and your emotions override fact based decision making.

If you have some misgivings about the property, AND you find yourself rationaizing with assertions like "well I'd live there," then you need to let it go!

We all have some experience or we wouldn't be investing.  To completely discount your "gut feelings" is typically fraught with peril.  Taking an investment risk should not involve arrogant foolishness and it certainly isn't always rewarded! 

If you suspect there's a significant defect with the property that a GENERAL contractor likely can't handle, then you need to let it go! 

If your home inspector or contractor has body language that is telling you they are concerned or worried about one or more aspects of the property, that's their experience telling them to avoid trouble.  To honor that is to prevent going down a path that you will collectively regret.

If you are certain you've singlehandedly identified the one valuable thing about the property that everyone else overlooked, then you need to let it go!

Undervalued property is a cruel myth.  If it's available for purchase, then someone assigns a value to it for one or more reasons.  Overpriced properties abound for any number of reasons as well, but I have yet to find a parcel that was truly being "given away" in a financial transaction.  Things like "we could build another house on this oversize lot and double our money!' make great television flip or flop show antics, but that's because it's H o l l y w o o d.  In the real world, 15 or more people already thought of or tried to do it already and failed for whatever reason and you're just the latest one with the epiphany there o' chosen one...

If you're bidding primarily based on one key valuation factor or you're bidding sight unseen, then you need to let it go!

The old adage "a fool and their money are soon parted" is apropos.  Purchasing based on one overriding criteria is a myopic delimma called evidence bias and it has led to some of history's greatest calamities.  Buying sight unseen is for the super rich and not to be done lightly by mere mortals.  Stay in real world and make an honest, well researched, ROI.  The excitement should come from success and accomplishment, not from going white knuckled through the purchasing and reselling process.

 Happy Hunting!


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