Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Did cluttered condominium unit contribute to fatality?
Firefighters in Lauderhill recently responded to a fire in a two-story condominium building. The fire was contained within a single unit but the cause remained unknown. When firefighters arrived on the scene, they encountered substantial difficulty in extracting the female occupant from the unit due to the number of items inside the unit. Their access was limited to about an 18-inch passageway. The firefighters were able to rescue the woman from the unit but sadly she passed away later at the hospital as a result of her injuries.
How do and should condominium and cooperative associations deal with the issue of owners who maintain unsafe conditions within their units?
Sometimes, it is an owner storing combustible material in their units, other times it is an owner who has been hoarding material for years to the point that there is no longer a safe place to enter or exit the unit. Some individuals living alone may begin to have problems caring for themselves and allow food and other materials to decay and attract rodents and other pests. These same folks may have problems with units that no longer have kitchen and bathroom facilities that meet their changing needs.
The starting point should be communication with the resident to determine what the association can do to assist him or her. If that communication is not welcomed, the association may wish to reach out to the resident’s family members if they have their contact information. Often, the board has no such information or the family members do not wish to get involved. If the board suspects that an owner is becoming a danger to himself or to the community, then the State’s Elder Services can be contacted for assistance but a speedy resolution is hardly guaranteed.
The issue of owners presenting a possible danger to the community is one of the hardest to resolve. With regard to this fire, owners in the other 13 units were eventually allowed to return to their units after a harrowing morning; other communities have not been so lucky.