Sittenfeld, Qualls want to require Cincinnati rental properties to install new smoke detectors

Proposal called a first step to improve safety

AVONDALE - Cincinnati Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld are sponsoring legislation to require all rental properties in the city be equipped with photoelectric smoke detectors.

Fire safety experts say those devices are far more effective at detecting smoldering fires than the ionization smoke detectors that most homes have.

Both Sittenfeld and Qualls called the ordinance a first step in making rental property in the city safer in the wake of a New Year’s Day fire that killed two University of Cincinnati students.

Next will be working with property owners, city officials and the University of Cincinnati to make sure rental properties comply with city codes related to occupancy and other health and safety measures, Sittenfeld said.

“We have to make sure landlords aren’t jamming people like sardines into their properties,” Sittenfeld said after a Tuesday news conference in Avondale to announce the legislation. “I absolutely look at that as an important next step.”

A WCPO Digital investigation found hundreds of rental homes around UC’s campus fall in a housing inspection blind spot. A section of Cincinnati housing code states no more than five unrelated people can live in a single-family home without approval from the city and added safety features in the house. But – unlike with new construction – the city has no system to inspect existing homes that are converted to rental properties.

Qualls called the fact that some landlords around campus pack so many students into rental houses “dangerous and irresponsible.”

She said city officials have begun to work with the university to distribute “approved lists” of landlords whose properties have passed the proper city inspections.

Beefing up enforcement would undoubtedly be expensive for the cash-strapped city. But Sittenfeld put it this way: “We can’t afford not to.”

Dean Dennis was on hand for Tuesday’s news conference. His daughter was one of five Ohio State University students who died in a fire in April 2003. He’s been advocating since then for better protections as part of a group called Fathers for Fire Safety.

Dennis applauded the proposed legislation related to smoke detectors, saying that photoelectric smoke detectors are far more effective at quickly sensing smoke from smoldering fires. Ionization smoke detectors, which are what most homes use, are better at detecting fast-moving, flaming fires like those that start in kitchens, according to the Cincinnati Fire Department.

But Dennis said he’d like to see more done to make rental property safer, particularly property that’s marketed to college students.

“Kids don’t think they’re going to die in a fire,” he said. “And they can be victimized by the lack of housing around university areas.”

Representatives of the Greater Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky Apartment Association and the Cincinnati Real Estate Investors Association were on hand Tuesday to support the smoke detector legislation, too.

“One of my greatest fears as a property owner is getting a call about a fire,” said Jim Shapiro, a property manager with Proffitt Real Estate Services.

Shapiro said he just recently became aware of the city’s five-person occupancy rule for rental properties and said the region could benefit from greater education efforts for property owners and tenants alike.

“There’s residents in every neighborhood in town with the same concerns,” he said.

Under the new law proposed by Qualls and Sittenfeld, rental property owners would be required to install photoelectric detectors outside bedrooms and in common areas. Landlords would be required to install the detectors in buildings with 12 or fewer units within six months of the proposal’s adoption.

In buildings with 13 or more units, landlords would have to install the detectors within two years of the proposal’s adoption or when new tenants move into a living unit.

Qualls said that provision should make it more likely that large student rental properties would have the new detectors installed quickly.

The proposed changes don’t affect homeowners. But the Cincinnati Fire Department is encouraging homeowners to install the photoelectric detectors outside of bedrooms, too.

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