How to avoid living in a van down by the river - Part II

How to stay alert and stay safe: a few tips for renting in London

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Many students only consider rent and location when looking for rental housing, but there are also lots of legal issues to examine.

The most important law concerning tenant safety is the requirement that landlords provide working smoke alarms.

Dan Olderidge, London Fire Services deputy fire chief, and Dianne Lebold, a fire prevention inspector, both stress smoke alarms’ importance.

Every Ontario home must have a smoke alarm on every floor and outside every sleeping area. Smoke alarms must be installed within 12 inches of the ceiling.

Landlords failing to install a smoke alarm and provide maintenance instructions to tenants can be fined $230. Tenants can be fined for intentionally disabling smoke alarms.

Lebold says within two minutes of a fire, smoke can become so thick and black it limits visibility. She adds this smoke can be lethal.

Apartments must have proper fire exits. When looking at apartments, ensure all fire exits, sprinkler and standpipe connections are unobstructed and clearly marked. The building’s fire emergency procedures should also be prominent on every floor.

Olderidge and Lebold also advise looking for automatically closing fire-separation doors between corridors and stairwells, as they prevent smoke from spreading.

Basement apartments in houses pose numerous problems, says Orest Katolyk, London’s bylaw enforcement manager.

“I’ve been in rental properties where there’s people living in basements with no windows, the ceiling heights aren’t adequate, they don’t have a proper escape plan and they don’t have smoke detectors,” Katolyk says.

Olderidge and Lebold recommend making sure someone can fit through a bedroom window before signing a lease.

Ensuring hot water, heat and electricity are properly provided is also important.

Katolyk says Ontario’s health code stipulates every apartment must have sanitary facilities and drinkable water.

Mould is a potentially deadly health code issue. If students see mould while looking at an apartment, they shouldn’t sign a lease. If mould is found after signing a lease, student should contact the London and Middlesex Health Authority.

It’s equally important to consider the visibility of house numbers. If tenants have trouble seeing them from the street, so will emergency responders.

Also, Katolyk says new legislation for dwelling units limits the number of bedrooms to five. More than five results in problems with parking and garbage build-up, he adds.

Katolyk says London City Council recently proposed licensing rental units. This proposal suggests rental properties must pass an inspection before they are rented.

In the meantime, students must conduct their own inspections, so be thorough.

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