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Apartment Fire Shows Sublet Dangers: Beware of Quick Rental Unit Modifications

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By Admin on January 21, 2009 6:16 AM

With foreclosures and evictions booming, it's only natural that landlords and tenants try to maximize the number of people fitting into rental units. This can make it tempting to quickly slap up an additional wall in order to rent out another bedrooms. As the legal fallout of a 2005 apartment fire in the New York shows, however, quick rental conversions can be illegal and can lead to life-threatening dangers.

In 2005, a fire ripped through a Bronx, New York apartment complex. As reported by the AP, the fire started in an apartment where the tenant had added two bedrooms to his family's three bedroom home in order to rent them out. The fire spread to another apartment where extra rooms had also been added. Firefighters became trapped, and left with no other choice, jumped out a fourth story window. Two died. Four others sustained injuries. Now, the building's owner, its former owner and two tenants are being tried on manslaughter charges.

Slapping up a temporary wall, or what might seem a safe pressurized wall, to make an extra room may seem like no big deal. You might think it's a building code violation at most. However, disasters like the fire that killed two firefighters in the Bronx show that quick modifications to a rental unit or home can lead to huge potential liability for the owner and for the tenant.

Tight financial times push many to creative ways to trim housing costs. Landlords and tenants, however, must pay careful attention to what sorts of modifications are allowed, and whether permits are required. What might seem like red tape can not only keep rental units code compliant, but can also save lives and prevent huge landlord tenant liabilities.