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5 fire prevention tips for apartments & multifamily properties

When it comes to fire safety, multifamily property managers should constantly be on the lookout for fire hazards. One small ember can quickly turn into a runaway blaze that spreads from unit to unit, potentially costing millions in property damage. Even more serious than that is the threat of bodily injury to building occupants, especially in assisted living and retirement communities. According to the National Fire Protection Association, there were 98,000 multifamily apartment fires in 2013 that cause about $1.6 billion in property damage and 325 fatalities. The NFPA maintains an outline of fire codes and standards, and property owners should consult the NFPA-72 for specific questions about their building’s fire safety requirements. Additionally, you can protect the safety of your multifamily property and its occupants by reading tips to prevent the common cause of apartment fires.

1. Provide fire safety equipment in the kitchen.

Apartment fires are likely to start in the kitchen. In fact, over 80% of residential care and assisted living facility fires in 2013 were cooking fires. Make sure that kitchen appliances are properly installed and have adequate ventilation. Install smoke detectors in compliance with local ordinances, and make sure fire extinguishers provided in rental units are not past their expiration dates.

Bonus tip: In addition to fire safety equipment, commercial properties are required by law to have properly working lighted emergency exit signage. Test your building's emergency exit signage monthly and keep recorded logs of testing as required by the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA).

2. Maintain heating and cooling systems.

Improperly maintained heating and cooling systems can overheat and cause an electrical fire. Hire a qualified HVAC technician to check cooling units, heaters and furnaces for proper installation. Replace worn HVAC parts and old units when they become outdated.

Bonus tip: Storing items too close to a heat source is a fire hazard. Advise your tenants that they should keep household items like clothing and furniture a safe distance away from sources of heat.

3. Prevent and detect gas leaks.

Natural gas leaks pose a significant fire hazard for multifamily properties. Have gas lines inspected for faults and do not allow any digging around the property without having gas lines marked by the local utility company. Install gas leak detectors in building units as required by local building codes.

4. Inspect and upgrade electrical systems.

Buildings with improperly installed or deteriorated electrical systems are at risk of catching fire. Hire a certified electrician to inspect your building’s electrical components regularly. If you manage an older building, consider updating your electrical system to comply with current building standards. The cost to rewire and replace the electrical system is an investment in building and tenant safety.

5. Make sure waste is regularly disposed of.

Properly disposing of garbage and waste can minimize fire hazards. Trash can easily spark and go up in flames, and piled up garbage can block exit ways. Provide adequate garbage receptacles and have them emptied often.

Bonus tip: According to the NFPA, residential structure fires started by smoking materials killed an average of 590 people per year from 2012 to 2016. Only allow smoking in designated areas with cigarette receptacles and not in building units.