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RENTAL SAVVY

Safety first for landlords and tenants alike

October 19, 2003|H. May Spitz | Special to The Times

If it's 2 a.m. and disaster strikes, do you know where to find a flashlight? Can you locate the gas shut-off valve?

A residential fire is reported in the U.S. every 81 seconds, with nearly half the fires occurring between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., according to the National Fire Safety Assn. Armed with a little knowledge, landlords and tenants will find that prevention and preparedness are the best weapons against disaster.

Here's where to start:

* Keep flashlights handy and check frequently for battery charge. Consider plug-in lights that provide emergency light when power shuts down. Most hardware stores carry a variety, ranging from night lights to spotlight power. Portable battery-operated radios are a good idea too.

* Check smoke alarms to make sure they function properly. Smoke alarms are required under Section 13113 of California law. Visit www.leginfo.ca.gov for more information on the law.

Alarms should be in all bedrooms and common hallways of the unit. State law allows battery-powered alarms. Local ordinances may have stricter requirements. Check with the city or county for details.

Batteries should be changed twice a year. Test smoke alarms by simply pushing the "test" button or following the instructions on the alarm.

* Look for fire extinguishers in common areas. Most properties should have them in easy-to-spot locations. Note the tag on the extinguisher itself. It should be date-stamped to confirm when recharged.

No extinguishers or updated tags? Notify the management in writing at once.

* Children start nearly 100,000 fires a year, according the U.S. Fire Administration. They should be kept away from radiators, heaters and stoves when in use. The administration has a site designed for children at www.usfa.fema.gov/kids.

* Having emergency supplies at home is a good idea. Packaged, dried or canned food should be kept with a nonelectric can opener. Water supplies may be tainted or cut off in an emergency. Keep spare drinking water in closed, clean containers. Supply one gallon per person per day for at least three days. Store emergency supplies in a dry, safe place.

* A household disaster plan, including an escape route for all family members, is vital. Ways to get out quickly and safely in a fire and where to go during an earthquake should be discussed.

* Brace for an earthquake. Check that water heaters are braced to the walls with earthquake straps. Large furniture should be secured with wall braces.

* Don't hang or place anything containing glass that could shatter and cause injury -- especially en route to a door. Posters and art with glass can easily be framed with plexiglass.

* Do not keep flammables, such as gas or some cleaners, in the laundry room or near any type of heater, including water heaters.

* In buildings with 16 units or more, a resident manager should be available in case of emergency. If not, ask the owner or manager to provide in writing whom to contact for situations that may require the immediate shut-off of main gas, electric or water service for the property. Posting the information in the laundry room or common area may be helpful.

No one officially available? Ask the owner or manager for written permission for residents to shut off services as needed. This is especially important in case of an earthquake, when immediate shut-off may be required. Fires have erupted from gas lines. Leaking water and damaged house wires are also potential hazards.

* Know where the main shut-off valves are for the power, gas lines and water valves. Sometimes they are in three different areas, all requiring different tools and shut-off methods.

Newer buildings and those that have been resold may require automatic earthquake shut-offs for main gas valves. Ask the owner if the shut-offs for gas valves are automatic or manual.

Simple tools, such as a crescent wrench, should be kept near the water and gas lines at all times. Have them adjusted and ready for the job. A photo or diagram above the meters helps orient proper shut-off position.

When in a panic, it's hard to remember which way is up and off. Review or mark the position that indicates when the line is on and off.

Not sure where to start? Call the local utility company for directions. Once service is turned off, do not try turning it back on. Let a qualified utility service person take care of restoring and handling equipment.

Reader comments may be sent to hmayspitz@aol.com.

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