Whenever you rent an apartment, you have the right to expect that the property is reasonably safe and well-maintained. The building should be in compliance with local fire and safety codes, and emergency equipment/exits should be regularly inspected repaired when necessary.
Anyone who gets hurt because of improperly inspected/maintained property may be able to sue for premises liability. Sadly, some occupants never get their day in court because an accident on negligently maintained property proves to be fatal.
While it did not occur here in the Bay Area, a recent fatal accident may serve as a warning to anyone renting an apartment here in Oakland; particularly in an older building. Just over a week ago, a fire escape collapse at an apartment building in Philadelphia killed one young man and seriously injured two others.
According to news reports, three men in their mid 20s were hosting a birthday party at their apartment. Later in the evening, they all stepped out onto the fire escape in order to smoke a cigarette. They were only out there for one or two minutes before the fire escape shifted, separated from the wall and sent the men falling four stories.
One of the roommates fell head-first and died a short time later. He was only 22 years old. The two other young men survived but suffered broken backs and other serious injuries.
News sources say that the building is old and that the fire escapes are clearly in disrepair. The city of Philadelphia holds property owners and landlords responsible for maintaining the safety of fire escapes. However, there may be some confusion about who is actually responsible for inspecting the fire escapes.
The Department of Licenses and Inspections is responsible for much of this work throughout the city, but exceptions are made for smaller buildings, which this apartment apparently is. L&I generally does not have to conduct inspections for these buildings unless complaints are made.
It is possible that the last inspection of this particular building happened over 50 years ago. Needless to say, that is far too long to neglect something as important as a fire escape.
Fatal and injurious accidents like this one are especially tragic because they are easily preventable. There should be no ambiguity about the responsibility for conducting inspections and making necessary repairs. When such responsibilities are neglected or misunderstood, an old fire escape becomes an accident waiting to happen.
Source: Philly.com, “Man died in ‘brutal fall’ after fire escape collapse,” Allison Steele, Angelo Fichera and Mike Newall, Jan. 15, 2013