News of three University students’ deaths Sept. 20 hit especially close to home. Three weeks earlier, I had just moved out of one of the now-charred upstairs bedrooms in the same house. My roommates and I feel fortunate it was not us and remorseful knowing that either the fire or the inability to escape it might have been preventable.
Authorities might determine the cause of the fire does not lie with the house itself. However, a house causing a fire and a house impeding the escape of its inhabitants are both matters that need to be dealt with.
This Tuesday, I learned this house was operating under a provisional license, meaning the house had not yet been
inspected by the city. I lived at the house for 15 months prior to Aug. 31 with no knowledge that the house had not been inspected. For this, many people want to point the finger at the landlord. However, as far as I know, the landlord is not required to voluntarily provide this information to the tenants as long as no citations were given by the city inspector. In the case of this house, it was allowed to operate as long as it was on the list to be inspected.
People also tend to forget that landlords do not own houses on campus for the joy of offering students semi-affordable housing. This is a business, and it makes money by putting as little as legally possible into these houses and by charging as much as students are willing to pay for the product. Therefore, much of the responsibility needs to be aimed at the city.
Had the city required the landlord to tell the tenants the house had yet to be inspected, my roommates and I would surely have never signed the lease until the house was inspected. There is also reason to believe the current tenants would have done the same.
It is not enough that prospective tenants are educated in the art of house-leasing. The city must make it mandatory for landlords to supply this kind of crucial information about their properties before tenants sign a lease. Doing so might have saved three lives last Saturday morning, regardless of the fire’s cause.
Aaron Hage is a senior in the College of Biological Sciences. Send comments to [email protected]