July 12, 2022

Apartment Fires in NYC: Are Negligent Property Owners & Landlords to Blame?

By Jonathan Damashek

Posted in

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In January 2022, 17 residents in a Bronx high-rise apartment building died due to smoke inhalation when the building caught on fire. This is just one example of many apartment fires here in NYC. There is a large risk of fires with the age and failure to maintain many NYC apartment buildings.

According to the New York Post and the Fire Department of New York City (FDNY), the number of people who died in fires increased by 16% in 2021. There were 73 fatalities compared to 63 the year before. All of those deaths could have been avoided.

Common Causes of NYC Apartment Fires

Apartment fires can be caused in various scenarios, especially depending on the time of year. For example, apartment fires in the winter are more than likely caused by a heating source. Other times, it’s more likely to be a cooking situation.

Some of the most common causes of apartment fires include:

  • Cooking
  • Fireplaces
  • Electric and oil heaters
  • Appliances
  • Open flames (such as candles)
  • Wiring and electrical

Landlord & Owner Responsibility for Apartment Fires in New York

The owner of a property, or the person responsible for it (e.g., the landlord), has a duty to ensure the premises are reasonably safe. That includes adequate property maintenance and providing a healthy environment.

There are housing codes that property owners and landlords must meet. If the condition of a premises violates those codes, then the property owner or landlord has breached their duty and may be negligent.

For example, according to the NYC housing code, a landlord must keep apartments at least 68 degrees during the day and 62 degrees at night. If they fail to maintain those requirements, and a tenant is forced to use an electric heater that causes a fire, the landlord may be partially or fully responsible.

It is worth noting that other parties are likely liable, such as the manufacturer of the faulty electrical heater.

In reality, 62 degrees is much too cold for many people at night. NYC is pushing to increase minimum temperature requirements in residential buildings like apartments. Doing so may reduce residents’ need to use electric heaters and other potentially dangerous heating sources that can cause deadly fires.

What Are NYC Landlords & Property Owners Obligated to Do?

Landlords and property owners in NYC are obligated to provide an apartment premises that adheres to NYC housing codes. If they fail to do that, they may be considered negligent and held responsible for damages that result.

Some obligations that premises owners have include:

  • Ensuring safe temperatures can be maintained in apartment buildings
  • Maintaining HVAC systems and other heating and cooling appliances
  • Providing and routinely replacing smoke detectors
  • Ensuring tenants have appropriate exits throughout the apartment building in case of fire
  • Maintaining safe electrical and plumbing fixtures to prevent fires
  • Prohibiting the collection of boxes, trash, and other debris that can be a fire hazard
  • Correcting activities by tenants and situations that arise that lead to a potential for fire

A landlord or property owner is only responsible for what happens on the apartment premises. If something causes a hazard outside the building, the landlord or property owner is not responsible.

Who Can You Sue for an Apartment Fire in New York?

If there is a fire in your apartment building and you suffer damages, there may be multiple parties you can sue as a result. This type of lawsuit is based on premises liability, a sub-category of personal injury law.

The following parties may be included in a premises liability lawsuit for a fire if they were negligent:

  • Landlord
  • Property owner
  • Property manager
  • Management company
  • Inspector
  • Electrician or other worker
  • Construction company
  • Contractor
  • Tenant who caused the fire

More than one person or company may have been negligent in some situations. It’s important to name all potentially responsible parties. If you leave anyone out, you may not be able to recover all the compensation you deserve.

Things to Consider with NYC Apartment Fires

Your apartment fire claim or lawsuit will involve an insurance company in many cases. An insurance policy may protect the landlord, property owner, electrician, or other parties. Even the tenant who caused the fire may have renters’ insurance.

Insurance companies do as much as possible to reduce how much they have to pay. They may deny a claim or delay it until you run out of time to file a lawsuit. They may also offer a “lowball” settlement in an attempt to make the whole thing go away.

You should never accept an initial settlement offer from the insurance company. It will likely not cover all of your damages, especially if it involves an apartment fire, injuries, or loss of life.

The Importance of Holding Negligent NYC Landlords Accountable

NYC is full of slum lords who refuse to maintain safe living environments for their tenants. It’s important that you stand up for yourself and hold them accountable if the negligence causes harm, whether it’s a broken staircase or severe fire.

If your landlord violated the NYC housing code or otherwise failed to provide a safe apartment, they should be responsible for any burn injuries or other damages that they caused. The more people stand up for their right to have a safe apartment; the fewer fires will occur.

Consult a New York Premises Ability Lawyer If You Have Questions

If you or a loved one were involved in an apartment fire, you likely have questions. A NYC premises liability lawyer with HKD can help you understand your rights. Contact us today and we will provide you with the answers you need.