City health and safety regulators in Bangor are only authorized to initiate an inspection of private property when there is a complaint from either residents or landlords.
That could soon change, as a proposal before city council would launch a new program providing for routine inspections of some 6,000 local apartment units. Officials would be scanning the property for dangerous conditions amounting to health and safety code violations.
The goal, according to Bangor’s community and economic development director, would be the assurance that renters are granted the healthy, safe living quarters to which they are entitled.
In November, a horrific multi-unit apartment fire in Portland resulted in six deaths. That was approximately six months after officials there halted proactive, routine fire safety inspections of residential rental properties. Fire officials later discovered not only were the smoke detectors on the property disabled, but critical points of egress were blocked.
Although officials say claims that continuance of safety inspections would have prevented the deadly fire or minimized losses are speculative, the aforementioned issues would certainly have been flagged as violations if an inspection was conducted. It was the deadliest fire in the city in 40 years, and officials in Portland promptly resumed its routine inspection program.
Efforts in Bangor to do the same actually pre-dated that fire, but certainly, it gives city officials fuel to press forward with the measure. The only routine health and safety inspections currently required of residential property are those designated for federal subsidies, such as Section 8. Under federal law, those properties have to be inspected at least once a year.
Our Bangor premises liability lawyers understand it’s the city’s plan to have the program started by early May. Although annual inspections would certainly be ideal, city leaders believe it’s likely they’ll only be able to initiate inspections once every three years.
Still, it’s better than nothing. Fire departments have for many years placed strong emphasis on safety and health inspections on public gathering places. These have included businesses, stores and schools. However, private residences have been mostly overlooked. This is despite the fact that this is where the most fires happen.
The U.S. Fire Administration reports residential fires account for more than three-fourths of all fire deaths annually, and nearly 80 percent of all fire injuries. Private dwelling fires also account for more than half of all annual property losses attributed to accidental fires.
It’s estimated there are more than 1 million fires in the U.S. each year.
Because about half of all residential fires are related to cooking, it is crucial for properties to have working smoke detectors and clear points of exit.
While it’s true that many fires – and other dangers on private property – are not intentional, property owners owe a duty to tenants and guests to ensure the site is free of perilous conditions. Adhering to basic health and safety codes is just the start.
Last year, 25 people died in Maine due to 14 fires. If these routine health inspections help to hold property owners more accountable for their sites, there is no question injuries could be prevented and lives could be saved.
People who suffer injury as a result of fire or another dangerous condition on property should consult an experienced injury lawyer.
If you have been injured in Bangor, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.
Bangor eyes mandatory health, safety inspections of nearly 6,000 apartments, March 13, 2015, By Evan Belanger, Bangor Daily News