Is Landlord Responsible for Fire That Killed Tenant?
LVT Number: #31477
The daughter of a deceased rent-stabilized tenant sued landlord for wrongful death after tenant died in a fire that broke out in her apartment during the night while she was sleeping. The daughter claimed that the apartment had nonfunctional battery-operated smoke detectors and that, in the hallway, there were nonfunctional smoke detectors that landlord had replaced with hidden cameras. She also claimed that landlord failed to maintain the building's fire alarm system. Landlord claimed that it had no notice of any dangerous condition and asked the court to dismiss the case without trial.
The court ruled against landlord, since it failed to show it had no notice of the potentially hazardous condition of the apartment, the outlets, or the smoke detectors or that it had no duty to fix or repair said conditions. There were issues of fact that required a trial.
Tenant's grandson testified in pretrial questioning that tenant was a hoarder and was wheelchair-bound. He sometimes helped her at the apartment. The grandson testified that before the night of the fire, sparks would emit from the outlet where an extension cord was plugged in next to tenant's chair, where the fire occurred. Each time he tried to remove the plugs or extension cords from the outlet, tenant would plug it back in and wanted the super to fix it. The grandson had complained to the super about the outlet. The grandson also testified that the smoke detectors stopped working in 2012. He bought a new smoke detector in 2014, but tenant wouldn't let him install it.
A fire report stated that the extension cord could have caused the fire. The condition of tenant's apartment was well known to landlord for many years and the building super personally saw the fire hazard tenant created. An expert for tenant's daughter stated that the excessive clutter in the apartment created a fire hazard but that landlord had an independent obligation to address and remove the fire hazard from the building. The expert also believed that if the apartment or hallway had functional smoke detectors, tenant would likely have been alerted and able to escape the apartment. Landlord also failed to comply with Admin. Code Section 27-980 by failing to provide building-powered smoke detectors.
Parekh v. Maxwell Kates: Index No. 159127/2014, 2021 NY Slip Op 31540(U)(Sup. Ct. NY; 5/5/21; Latin, J)