ABC57 Investigates: How fire safe is your apartment?
SOUTH BEND, Ind. --- The sound of fire engine sirens is never a sound you want to hear coming into your neighborhood. But it’s a reality for hundreds of folks across Michiana per year, namely in apartment complexes where fires can spread quickly.
Clay Fire Marshal Dave Cherrone accompanied ABC57's Tiffany Salameh to four popular apartment complexes to check out the good and bad when it comes to safety.
“You have a whole town in a couple of streets here compared to how a neighborhood is laid out with a house,” Cherrone said.
Grandview Apartment and Townhomes
Our first stop was Grandview Apartments and Townhomes in Granger. A bird’s nest in the dryer vent was the first cause for concern.
“That’s one of the first things we look for. Now you got the possibility of a dryer fire.”
Overall Grandview scored high for fire safety, there was no fire extinguisher in the apartment, which is not required under Indiana law, but there were two working smoke detectors along with 8 fire sprinklers situated both inside and outside.
The only noticeable fire hazard was the blocked dryer vent.
“This is perfect. They’ve obviously designed this so that you have plenty of outlets in the kitchen so you’re not going to overload anything,” Cherrone said.
The apartment complex has only been open for four years, but I did some digging into their past and found only one small fire.
Indian Lakes Apartments
Up next, was Indian Lakes Apartments.
There was a fire extinguisher in the storage closet, one working smoke detector, and fire alarms in the common area. One issue was that there was no carbon monoxide detector.
“We would probably want or get a carbon monoxide alarm since you have a gas appliance,” Cherrone said.
Documents I obtained tell the same story, only two fires at Indian Lakes in the past 10 years.
If you are a resident in an apartment complex, you always have the option to buy your own carbon monoxide detector, which Fire Marshal Cherrone recommends.
Remington Court Apartments
At Remington Court, everything was up to standards as well.
A fire extinguisher was located in the kitchen as well as in the outside hallway. There was one working smoke detector and fire alarms as well as a smoke detector in the common area.
“That’s exactly perfect. We don’t have anything on the sides that could cause issues with flames,” Cherrone said.
Documents I obtained for Remington Court apartments show only four apartment fires in the past 10 years.
Our final destination is Prosper Apartments in South Bend. The apartment complex has had several name and ownership changes over the years, it used to be called Park Jefferson, and then Laurenz Place, and now it’s called Prosper.
The apartment we visited was in the same building as the most recent fire at the complex on July 4th and we spotted a problem as soon as we walked in. A smoke detector just lying in the open. Not properly installed, and not ready to keep this family safe.
Tiffany: “What is that?
Resident: “I don’t know that was there when I came back from the fire.
Fire Marshal: “it’s been sitting there since then?”
Despite the lack of safety precautions in the common area, everything else checked out, with a fire extinguisher readily available and one working smoke detector in the hallway although Fire Marshal Cherrone recommends more than just one.
“The idea is that even though smoke moves, if a door is closed, and a fire starts in there, it’s going to be a while for the smoke to get out and hit the only detector.”
Despite minimal issues during our inspection, documents showing fire activity at Prosper Apartments, tell a very different story.
Over a span of ten years, the apartment complex has had 84 fires. The majority of the fires were ruled accidental caused by cooking or smoking.
Where does the blame lie when something happens?
So if you are a tenant in an apartment complex that catches fire, where does the blame lie when something happens?
I took a lease from the Indiana Apartment Association to contract attorney Tanner Brooks in South Bend to find out.
“So as you read through this, it’s just them stating over and over, 'If there should be a fire, sorry we’re not responsible for it no matter what,'” Brooks said.
More than likely, Brooks says if you signed a lease as the renter, you will absorb the blame for any fire.
“I don’t know if I would consider this a red flag, so much as just yet again it’s the apartment complex doing everything they can to limit their liability. You’re not going to be able to go to the complex and say I want you to take this out of your lease because they will just rent to someone else," Brooks said.
As outlined in a section of the lease we provided Brooks, signing under the “Smoke Detector” section means you’re agreeing that you will regularly check to make sure your smoke detectors are working properly. The apartment is liable to check them as well but by signing you acknowledge you share part of the blame if they are faulty.
“It’s tough, just like a mentioned because if you don’t sign they’re just going to move on.”
The most important thing you can do before signing a lease is to be aware of what you’re agreeing to and to make sure you have renter’s insurance.
“A lot of apartment complexes, although they say that they want to make sure that the tenants have liability insurance a lot of them don’t check. Then if there’s a fire, the apartment complex is going to raise their hands and say ‘well sorry you said you had insurance’ and all of those expenses would be paid out of pocket,” Brooks said.
But there is one loophole, according to Indiana law, Brooks says if you can prove negligence on behalf of the landlord, you might have a case, despite what your lease may state.
“Make sure you have an attorney to look over the lease to see if there is something this apartment complex could have done which they didn’t do, that caused this to happen.”
What to look out for when touring apartments
There are also a few things you can check when touring apartment complexes, Fire Marshal Cherrone recommends asking about fire extinguishers and checking to make sure they are unused. Also, asking about the age of your smoke detectors and how often maintenance will come by to check them.
If the apartment has a gas stove, you should also ask about carbon monoxide detectors.