Cincinnati leaders push for photoelectric smoke detectors in rental housing after students died

CINCINNATI - In the wake of a fire that killed two University of Cincinnati students on New Year's Day, the city is pushing for photoelectric smoke detectors in rental properties. These detectors sense smoldering fires faster. Ionization alarms are in most homes, and detect fast flaming fires better.

In a Five On Your Side consumer investigation, we found the photoelectric alarms sounded nine minutes faster in our smoldering fire. In some government tests, the time difference is up to 30 minutes.

"We have to make sure landlords aren't jamming people like sardines into their properties,"Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said after a Tuesday news conference in Avondale to announce the legislation. "I absolutely look at that as an important next step."

She said city officials have begun to work with the university to distribute "approved lists" of landlords whose properties have passed the proper city inspections.

Beefing up enforcement would undoubtedly be expensive for the cash-strapped city. But Sittenfeld put it this way: "We can't afford not to."

Dean Dennis was on hand for Tuesday's news conference. His daughter was one of five Ohio State University students who died in a fire in April 2003. He's been advocating since then for better protections as part of a group called Fathers for Fire Safety.

He was also interviewed as part of our Five On Your Side investigation into smoke detectors.

Dennis applauded the proposed legislation related to smoke detectors, but would like to see more done to make rental property safer, particularly property that's marketed to college students.

"Kids don't think they're going to die in a fire," he said. "And they can be victimized by the lack of housing around university areas."

Representatives of the Greater Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky Apartment Association and the Cincinnati Real Estate Investors Association were on hand Tuesday to support the smoke detector legislation, too.

"One of my greatest fears as a property owner is getting a call about a fire," said Jim Shapiro, a property manager with Proffitt Real Estate Services.

Shapiro said he just recently became aware of the city's five-person occupancy rule for rental properties and said the region could benefit from greater education efforts for property owners and tenants alike.

"There's residents in every neighborhood in town with the same concerns," he said.

Under the new law proposed by Qualls and Sittenfeld, rental property owners would be required to install photoelectric detectors outside bedrooms and in common areas. Landlords would be required to install the detectors in buildings with 12 or fewer units within six months of the proposal's adoption.

In buildings with 13 or more units, landlords would have to install the detectors within two years of the proposal's adoption or when new tenants move into a living unit.

Qualls said that provision should make it more likely that large student rental properties would have the new detectors installed quickly.

The proposed changes don't affect homeowners. But the Cincinnati Fire Department is encouraging homeowners to install the photoelectric detectors outside of bedrooms, too.

Cities in northeast Ohio have also created ordinances that require photoelectric detectors. While cities are making changes in response to their research and safety of citizens, Ohio's Fire Marshal told the Five On Your Side Consumer team that any smoke detector will save a life.

Ohio Fire Marshal, Larry Flowers, is worried about changing the message adding that too many people are dying in homes without any working detector. Flowers will continue to support his message that any detector is better than none.

It's a message that angered some local firefighters including the Northeastern Ohio Fire Prevention Association. The organization launched a campaign and website, Photoelectric Saves, in northeast Ohio that educates homeowners on the photoelectric technology.

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