Fire Damage in Multifamily Housing: What Property Managers Need to Know

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Firefighters know that in just five minutes, an entire home can be engulfed in flames, and even smaller fires become life threatening in as little as two minutes. The spread of fire can be particularly dangerous in multifamily housing, including high-rise properties. Fire starts burning bright but quickly produces black smoke and complete darkness inside a building. It’s important for property managers to be aware of just how fast a fire can multiply and cause damage to multifamily housing and to people’s lives.

Common Causes of Fire Damage

Fires kill more Americans each year than all natural disasters combined, according to the American Red Cross. Fire and it’s aftermath affect people from all backgrounds in all geographic locations, whether they live in a house, a large multifamily residence, or a high-rise building.

Housing can catch fire due to faulty electrical wiring, candles burning unattended, smoking in bedrooms, pots and pans overheating on a stove, outdoor barbecues, and many other sources. No matter the cause, the damage can be far-reaching:

  • A small flame can turn into a significant fire in less than 30 seconds and produces damaging black smoke within minutes — even in areas of the home that do not catch fire.
  • Firefighters need gallons and gallons of water to put a fire out. It soaks rugs and fabric and washes through an entire structure, causing damage everywhere.
  • A fire’s heat can raise room temperatures to 600 degrees at typical human eye level, melting parts of homes that otherwise appear strong and indestructible, leaving a sooty mess.
  • Fires not only produce damaging smoke but toxic gases that can quickly cause asphyxiation and make it more difficult for water alone to douse the fire.

How Should You Handle Fire Damage As A Property Manager?

Property managers and owners of multifamily and high-rise buildings need to be prepared to deal with the aftermath of a blaze because it can cost dearly.

According to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), home structure fires not only caused $14.8 billion in property damage in 2019, but they accounted for 3,700 deaths and 16,600 injuries. 

Here are five actionable ideas and detailed advice for property managers and owners to protect their property and their occupants after a fire.

1. Inspect and Document the Fire Damage

  • Once it’s safe to enter the property, determine the extent of the damage.
  • Take pictures to document any damage and inventory structural, interior, and exterior losses that will need to be replaced, repaired, or restored.
  • Make note of specific makes and models of appliances, equipment, and other items when possible.
  • If the fire damage is so bad that the structure is a total loss, contact the property owner to discuss a plan for demolition.
  • If the firefighters shut off the water, gas, and electric utilities, do not turn them back on yourself. The fire department will turn utilities back on before they leave the site of the fire if it is safe to do so.
  • Secure the property to prevent any trespassers from entering or looting. This means boarding up damaged doors and windows, covering exposed areas with heavy-duty plastic, and installing a secure temporary fence around the property.

2. Contact Your Insurance Company Immediately

  • It can take time for your insurer to process your claim. Start the claims process as soon as you can after documenting the extent of the fire damage.
  • Ask your insurance company to send an adjuster to the property and estimate the total cost of the damage.
  • Now is a good time to talk to fire restoration companies for help with restoring the property. Confirm with your insurer that the ones you’ve contacted are approved vendors.
  • Multifamily residential property managers and owners put their livelihood and their investment in jeopardy by not partnering with restoration teams who have industry knowledge, experience, and the necessary resources to respond quickly and completely to their needs in the event of fire damage.

3. Help Your Tenants Find New Housing

  • Contact local agencies that can help people who have been displaced by property fires and need a place to stay, such as the Red Cross.
  • If property restoration is expected to take a long time, let the tenants know.
  • Check lease terms, local housing regulations, and the insurance policy to see if the cost of temporary housing is covered or whether the property owner is required to front the cost of relocating your tenants.
  • This is also a good time to remind occupants to file a claim with their own insurance provider if they have coverage.

4. Determine Liability

  • The cause of the fire determines who is liable for the damages.
  • Obtain the fire marshal’s report on the cause of the blaze as soon as possible to help you fulfill your legal obligations regarding building restoration.
  • The property owner will always be responsible for fixing structural damages and returning the property to proper living conditions. However, depending on what caused the fire, they may only be partially responsible financially.

5. Begin Restoration Efforts As Quickly As Possible

  • Fire damage to multifamily housing and high-rise buildings is unlike typical property damage.
  • Water, smoke, soot, and flames can create unseen structural damage that will weaken the entire building. But that’s not all. Fire damage interrupts critical systems like HVAC or electrical and can release harmful materials like asbestos into the environment.
  • A restoration like this requires a quick response from an experienced response team who has the scale and knowledge to handle fire, smoke, soot, and water damage.

Planning Your Emergency Response

As a property manager or owner, do you know who to call to get the help you need after the sudden loss from fire damage?

All kinds of emergencies happen without warning, so you need to plan your response in advance. Partnering with the team at First Onsite on emergency response planning can help.

We are standing by 24/7, ready to jumpstart your emergency recovery process no matter what. We respond quickly, and once on-site, we assess your damage, draw up plans, and lay out a timeline with a budget that we stand by.

When it comes to fire, water, and smoke restoration, we’re the only partner you’ll ever need. 

We’re here to help with every aspect of the process, from assessing structural concerns and extracting water to removing soot and chemicals, providing temporary power and climate control sources.

We Help You Restore, Rebuild and Rise.

With decades of expertise, unmatched agility, and the scalability for any job, FIRST ONSITE has everything it takes to be your single-source restoration partner.

When disaster strikes, you need a rapid response from a partner with the skills and experience to handle any type of unexpected event. Our comprehensive coverage means we can be there whenever, wherever, and however you need us. We’re more than just a property restoration powerhouse — we’re a team of people dedicated to doing good and doing the right thing. We’re here to help.

Contact us to schedule a consultation today.

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