West Virginia apartment residents may not even consider whether or not their buildings have fire sprinklers installed. The lack of a sprinkler system came as a surprise to one Honolulu family after a fire in their apartment building resulted in several deaths. The family reported that they hadn’t even considered if sprinklers had been installed. After the Honolulu fire and others in major cities across the United States, the lack of this basic safety system has become a growing concern.
Many high-rise apartments and other residential buildings in cities were constructed before fire sprinklers were mandatory. This means that there’s nothing illegal about not having the sprinklers installed or choosing not to install them, even after an accident occurs. Various jurisdictions have created safety laws in response to deadly fires, but they often get resistance from landlords. Property owners often cite the high costs and logistical complications of installing fire sprinklers in older buildings. Modern building codes in most places require sprinkler systems to be installed during construction, but unless an older building experiences a significant update or change in residency or use, the building codes that applied during its construction stand.
There is little doubt that sprinkler systems are effective and save lives when they are installed. Honolulu’s fire chief stated that a sprinkler system would have contained the deadly apartment fire there and likely saved the lives of those in adjacent apartments.
When a person is harmed due to a fire that could have been prevented, there are questions about liability and negligence. A landlord who does not keep a building up to code or install necessary safety measures like fire sprinklers could be considered negligent and thus a defendant in a premises liability lawsuit if the failure resulted in harm to a tenant.