Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Voluntary safe student housing inspections begin

A voluntary program meant to highlight fire-safe rental properties launched on July 2 in Corryville.

The Cincinnati Fire Department's Fire Prevention Bureau began inspecting properties as part of the Cincinnati Safe Student Housing program, a list of off-campus housing properties for college students that meet existing fire safety codes.

Councilmember Laure Quinlivan led the creation of the program following a New Year's Day fire on Digby Avenue that claimed the lives of University of Cincinnati students Chad Kohls and Ellen Garner. Both died from smoke inhalation while trapped on the third floor, with the only means of escape being a window blocked by an air conditioner unit.

The families of Kohls and Garner approached Quinlivan in February and asked her if there was anything the City could do to ensure that a similar tragedy didn't happen to other families.

An estimated 4,000 University of Cincinnati students live off-campus.

"The families and friends of Chad and Ellen asked me to do something about bad rental properties around the university that violated fire codes," Quinlivan said in a prepared release. "They pushed for the creation of a 'safe' housing list and we are acting on it now."

Uptown Rental Properties volunteered three of its properties, containing more than 350 units, to help kick off the program. The first inspections took place at Vine Street Flats, which is located at 2906 Vine Street.

"We feel it is vital to have clean safe housing for students," said Uptown Rental Properties President Dan Schimberg. "Most of them have never lived outside their parents' house before attending college. They do not really understand how to evaluate a safe living situation so we feel the burden is on us to provide that and make sure they have a great college housing experience. Fire safety and security is a major part of that."

Landlords can receive a free inspection by calling (513) 357-7585. Participating landlords will receive a "Tenant-Landlord Contract" addendum, which they can sign and attach to their leases.

The full list of properties soon will be available to parents and students on the City of Cincinnati website and through the University of Cincinnati.

City Council is taking other steps to address fire safety in rental housing. In March, it passed legislation requiring photoelectric smoke detectors in all rental properties, and, this August, it plans to pass legislation that will prevent window air conditioner units from being installed in designated escape windows.

Photo credit: Ann Garner, Dean Dennis of Fathers for Fire Safety, Laure Quinlivan, and Diane Simpson. Garner, Dennis, and Simpson have all lost children in off-campus fires. Provided.

Previous reading on BC:
Proposed legislation would require photoelectric smoke detectors in rental properties (2/19/13)
Comprehensive training for landlords is Friday (10/16/12)
Landlord training this Friday (5/16/12)
Chronic nuisance ordinance to be reviewed...again (4/13/10)
DCD will not increase number of properties eligible for rental rehab program (8/4/09)