Fire safety, property damage serious concerns for condo, apartment dwellers

By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities


Multifamily housing such as apartments, stacked condominiums, and townhouses present numerous potential risks for property owners and residents. One of the most serious risks is the potential for property damage, personal injury, or even death due to a fire.

Unfortunately, many older multifamily housing structures have not been constructed with modern fireproof building materials and techniques,  despite scientific advances in engineering, design, and construction techniques.

Thousands of housing structures built 20 to 60 years ago completely lack sprinkler systems and adequate firewalls or emergency escape infrastructure.  And, even though some states have attempted to mandate retrofitting older buildings for fire safety, there has been stiff political opposition due to the high cost of construction that would be necessary.

Fire sprinkler systems are particularly controversial. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) supports sprinklers as an effective way to prevent injury or death. But critics point out that, when smoke alarms are present, the added benefit of sprinkler systems is relatively small, and, after all, sprinkler systems fail 8-12% of the time.

Furthermore, even newer structures – especially housing classified as “affordable” – are being constructed with wood framing instead of steel or concrete, in order to keep construction costs low. The industry touts the benefits of new lightweight engineered lumber, so it is likely that many new condo and apartment towers will be constructed with wood frame.

Even in non-wood frame buildings, in some cases, exterior panels fastened to high rise buildings have been found to be highly flammable, resulting in multiple fatalities in London and the U.S.

And, although most residents survive a fire, they often face the daunting task of navigating the complex insurance process for repairing and rebuilding.

Tenants often need to relocate on short notice, which can be difficult in areas where affordable rentals are in short supply.

Owner-occupants of association-governed condos and townhouses damaged by fire may be displaced for months or years. During that time, an owner must continue to pay their mortgage, taxes, insurance, and condo, co-op, or HOA fees – all in addition to paying for temporary housing. An owner in a multifamily housing association has little direct control over the repair and rebuild process.

Below are three eye-opening articles illustrating the many risks for multifamily housing consumers.


Condo Residents Concerned About Flammable Panels

Dave Savini  , CBS Chicago, November 22, 2017 10:31 PM

(CBS) — River East Center homeowners speak to the 2 Investigators about flammable panels used to construct their Streeterville building.

Piya Mukherjee says she’s owned a condo there for 10 years, and did not know about the potential danger of the exterior building material.

It is called Reynobod PE, and it contains a Polyethylene core. It’s the same kind of exterior metal paneling blamed for helping fuel the Grenfell Tower fire in London this summer; 71 people perished.

Read more (Video):

Condo Residents Concerned About Flammable Panels



BUSINESS No sprinklers: Could this condo fire death have been avoided?

Susan Taylor Martin, Tampa Bay Times
Published: October 18, 2017 Updated: October 30, 2017 at 07:43 AM

ST. PETERSBURG — Shortly after 4:30 on the morning of Sept. 7, Kelly Winston drove away from her condo in Waterside at Coquina Key and headed to work.

She hadn’t gotten very far, just a few hundred feet, when a man ran up to her Camaro and began beating on the door and window. He had was wearing nothing but boxer shorts and had a crazed look.

Startled and scared, Winston kept going. It was only when she stopped for gas that she saw blood on the door.

Minutes before, Daniel Herrmann had bolted through a bedroom window to escape dense black smoke and flames shooting in from a balcony. With burned hands, he had pounded on neighbors’ doors, then on Winston’s car, trying to get help for his roommate, still trapped inside their condo.

Firefighters found 25-year-old Zachary Means dead in the kitchen. The fire had been so intense, it melted the plastic on appliances and peeled the laminate off the cabinets.

Read more:


Christmas fire, tragic death leads to HOA tussle in Mason

Keith Biery Golick, Published 9:37 p.m. ET Nov. 16, 2017 | Updated 11:32 p.m. ET Nov. 16, 2017

Melissa Messersmith was in a pain-killer daze.

She had surgery the day before and was recovering at her Mason condo when she heard pounding on the door.

It didn’t stop. Eventually, she heard her name. Then: FIRE!

She jumped out of bed. It was 2 a.m.

Outside, it was snowing. Christmas was two days away.

Her next-door neighbor of 10 years died in the flames.

He was found face down on the kitchen floor, next to a walker. Investigators said it looked like he fell and hit his head on the sink, according to the Ohio State Fire Marshal incident report.

“It was sad. Awful. Tragic,” Messersmith said. “I never spent another night in my condo.”

That’s because this was only the start of her troubles.

That happened in 2013.

Messersmith, 39, now lives in a Maineville home with a first-floor bedroom – in case of a fire.

She says she can’t sleep.

Not because of the fatal fire, but because of how her homeowners’ association and property management company dealt with the situation.

Read more: (Note-video is mismatched with article text)

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