FORT SMITH, Ark. (KNWA) — A deadly house fire in Fort Smith is raising concerns over whether landlords are responsible for providing smoke detectors for tenants.
Whitney Kaub, 30, died from injuries sustained in the fire, along with her three-year-old daughter and five-year-old old son.
Two children, ages eight and ten, remain at a Little Rock hospital with life-threatening injuries.
In the past two weeks, two other rental properties also caught fire and did not have any smoke detectors, according to Fire Marshal Teddy Abbey.
“Landlords don’t go into these homes and inspect them on regular basis,” Abbey said.
Arkansas state law does not say who exactly is responsible for providing smoke detectors on a property, but the city of Fort Smith is a little more stringent.
A Fort Smith ordinance passed in 2003 requires the property owner to maintain a smoke detector. But, an inspection request has to come from the tenant or landlord. The fire department has to be invited inside to look at any code violations.
“They don’t understand their rights as a tenant,” Abbey said.
The city has no rental standards that require inspectors to go through a home prior to renting it out, unless it’s an apartment complex.
If the property owner is found to not provide smoke detectors and it’s a “life safety aspect,” the owner has to fix it immediately, or receive a citation and even a court date.
“We have to be invited in to be able to look at any code violations,” Abbey said.
“If you don’t have smoke detectors, call your landlord. Request that you get smoke detectors in your home. If they do not, call neighborhood services, call the fire department. Ask us to come and look, and we’ll do a quick safety inspection.”Teddy Abbey, Fort Smith Fire Marshal
The deadly fire at 811 N. 35th Street remains under investigation, and it’s too early to discern if the owners will face legal issues after failing to provide smoke detectors for their tenants.
According to property records, the owners of that property also have 19 other residential properties and one commercial property in Sebastian County.
Abbey adds, “I think it’s very important that at some point our city would adopt some kind of a requirement that people who are renting properties would have to register those properties under the city, just like a business.”
House fires spike in cold weather
According to Chief Tom Jenkins, the President and Chairman of the Board of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, house fires are more common in the colder months because people begin to use fireplaces and alternate heating.
He also says normal furnishings found in a home now contain more plastic, and those chemicals burn faster. It also gives off more heat.
“Your grandma’s couch you grew up on does burn slower and produces less heat than the couch you might go buy today at a furniture store…when you enclose those in a building, a fire will grow and develop quicker and that means less time for people to get out,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins says, on average, it takes around four to six minutes for all material in a room to catch in a fire.
All new homes are built following international fire code, but he recommends installing fire sprinklers for added safety.