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Rental Housing safety/code question - STX

 
debralu
(@debralu)
Advanced Member

We recently signed a long-term lease for a condo on STX. There are a couple issues that we've discovered with the condo that I KNOW would not pass a rental inspection back in Michigan. Up until 2 months ago, I worked in city government in the Housing Department and worked closely with the Building/Rental inspectors, so I have first hand knowledge of what is required there.

The first items that we discovered "missing" are ventilation fans. There are none in the condo at all - not over the stove or in either of the bathrooms. In Michigan, properly installed vent fans are required to meet Building Code or the owner would not receive a Certificate of Occupancy. Needless to say, the heat/steam/moisture build-up is a problem. I'm concerned about mold growth in the main bathroom in addition to the almost unbearable steamy air. We ended up purchasing a large fan that points into the main bathroom from the hallway (we can't plug it in there because there is only one outlet in the bathroom and it's over the sink). This helps a little but a ventilation fan or at least a ceiling fan, would make more sense. We only use the air conditioning at night and just in the master bedroom, in order to keep our WAPA bill down. (Side note - there is not even ONE electrical outlet in our 1/2 bathroom. This is unheard of in the states.)

We also found that there are no smoke detectors in the condo. Michigan code requires one near the bedrooms (normally installed in the hallway outside the bedrooms) and most folks also have them near the kitchen area. There are not any fire extinguishers either, so if there is a small fire we'd have to just run out and let it burn until the fire department gets here (which could be a long time). In the city that I worked, there are bi-annual inspections of ALL registered rentals and these are items on the check list that MUST be taken care of within a short period or the rental would be shut down until it was deemed safe.

I realize that things are "different" here on the islands but this just seems so unsafe to me. I've mentioned the lack of ventilation fans to our landlord's representative. She said that she didn't think vent fans would help much and that as far as she knew, they just vented into the wall anyway. I know better - if the builder is installing them properly, they should vent to the outside.

I plan to mention the lack of smoke detectors & fire extinguisher to her, but wanted to check with all of you to see what you know about local rental unit requirements. Is anyone familiar with rental &/or building code here in STX? Do they regularly inspect rentals here?

If smoke detectors &/or fire extinguishers are not required, then we will purchase and install them ourselves. We feel that it's an important safety matter - potentially a matter of life or death.

I know I could try to reach someone in local government, but I don't know how much luck I'd have with them nor do I want to get my landlord in trouble if they ask where we live. We love our condo, don't want to jeopardize our relationship with our landlord, but would like to get these issues taken care of.

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Topic starter Posted : September 1, 2006 11:19 am
captpete
(@captpete)
Advanced Member

Welcome to the islands! The general building code is from the one most often used in Miami Dade County Florida. it is often stated to as The Southern Building Code.
There is a department of inspections for the VI government, it can be found in the blue pages of the phone directory. If you can get them to inspect, they will agree with you that the condo is probably not built to code.
I would install the smoke detectors in the living space of the condo, just like anywhere else in the real world. I would ask the landlord if I could install ceiling fans in the places where necessary. But remember, if you attach to the building in a permanent connection, you might have to leave them when you go, unless you retain the old fixtures and replace...as I have done before!
I don't know where you are renting, but most landlords wouldn't mind their tenants paying for any repairs that the tenant would like...just seems to be the way of the world.

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Posted : September 1, 2006 11:46 am
Linda J
(@Linda_J)
Expert

Captpete is correct about the building/housing code. I would also ask how old your building is? It is possible that some of the things you mention (exhaust fans) were not required when it was built and therefore your condo is legal by virtue of being grandfathered in. But smoke dectectors ARE required and I would ask about them immediately.

But none of that is really relevant to your situation. You say you love the Condo and don't want to jeopardize your relationship with the owner - so you have to figure out a way to get what you want/need without stepping on toes. I would not contact authorities unless I was willing to move.

Does your lease address any of these issues?

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Posted : September 1, 2006 1:32 pm
Alexandra
(@Alexandra)
Trusted Member

ventilation fans seem to be an oddity rather than an automatic in properties on STX. Smoke detectors also are a sporadic inclusion. With buildings constructed of concrete, there are very few fires and it seems that smoke detectors just aren't seen as having much of a point by most locals. Most roofs are at least partially made of wood, though, so smoke detectors shouldn't be ignored. When properties do have smoke detectors, they often don't have working batteries. Electrical outlets also don't tend to be installed with any pattern or thought to functionality in mind. I know my house has entire walls without a single outlet. The wiring used also isn't necessarily the right color or connected with the right wire nuts, etc. Making an electrical repair can be rather complicated to sort out. And this isn't only on houses built by individuals for their own family's use. Some condo complexes have the most jumbled and irregular wiring I have ever seen.

I haven't heard of anyone regularly inspecting rentals or of shutting them down if they don't meet "code".. whatever that might mean here on a particular day to a particular inspector. I suspect that at least 90% of rentals wouldn't meet "code" if measured by identical standards, and there isn't likely to be a wholesale closing down of apartments and condo complexes.

Best advice for dealing with your situation would be to purchase any smoke detectors and fire extinguishers and fans you feel are necessary for your personal safety and comfort. Then gently ask your property manager if the landlord might reimburse you for at least part of the expense. They may cooperate or they may not. But at least you will have peace of mind.

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Posted : September 1, 2006 1:46 pm
debralu
(@debralu)
Advanced Member

I don't have any idea how old the Coakley Bay condos are, but they don't seem to be too old -- maybe built in the 80's or 90's is my guess. However, the unit that we are in was renovated by the former owner just before being purchased by our landlord. There is new oak flooring throughout, new kitchen appliances and both bathrooms were completely remodeled with new fixtures - the toilets still had the stickers on them when we moved in. I would assume that a contractor was hired to do the work and would have had to obtain necessary permits before beginning the work. This work would then have to be inspected when the work was complete. I now understand that this is most likely a bad assumption.

I checked our lease and it says that any improvements require written permission of the landlord. So, I plan to contact our property manager to discuss these issues on the outside chance that she'll/they'll make the requested improvements or at least, reimburse us for expenses incurred. If not, I'll write up a request to allow us install the smoke detectors and go from there.

Thank you all for your responses. I continue to learn from you and appreciate your feedback.

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Topic starter Posted : September 1, 2006 2:50 pm
Anonymous
 Anonymous
(@Anonymous)
Guest

Coakley Bay suffered severe damage during hurricane Hugo in 1989. Many of the units were gutted and rebuilt after that date. When I looked at them some years ago, they were among the "better" built and maintained on St Croix.

As Alexandra has stated, construction and code adherence has not ever been a high point here. If you are dealing with ethical agents and owners, I believe they will value you as a good renter. Share your concerns with the owners, most agents here just want to protect the status quo. The owners should pay to install and maintain smoke detectors and other needed safety devices. Good vents are a luxury. If you like most everything else here you are on the right track.

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Posted : September 1, 2006 3:18 pm
STXBob
(@STXBob)
Trusted Member

Smoke detectors are cheap insurance. Install them! If the room has flammable contents, flashover can occur whether the walls are wood or concrete

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flashover :

"A flashover is the simultaneous ignition of all combustible material in an enclosed area.

Flashover occurs when the majority of surfaces in a space are heated to the point (known as fire point) at which they give off flammable gases that are hot enough to sustain combustion. Flashover normally occurs at 500 °C (930 °F).

The classic example of flashover is where a piece of furniture is set alight in a domestic room. The fire on the furniture produces a layer of hot smoke across the ceiling in the room. The radiated heat from this layer causes pyrolysis (heating of the other surfaces in the room, causing them to give off flammable gases). When the surface temperatures become high enough, these gases ignite and, in the space of a few seconds, every surface in the room may be on fire."

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Posted : September 1, 2006 8:48 pm
HipCrip
(@HipCrip)
Trusted Member

We just had renovations made and the problems with rigging a vent fan in an interior bathroom that would be compatible with our plywood/sealant roof were too numerous and costly in addition to not being required by code. We made out better all the way around with installing a ceiling fan.

As others stated, smoke detectors were not required by code but we do get peace of mind and a small discount on a very expensive homeowner's policy that make it worth our while to install the ones with a remote to shut off/test (you'll be happy to spend a little more for that remote if you have cathedral ceilings).

As you're learning, MI codes were designed for cold-weather, often wood framed homes and are far different than what is needed or required for the homes built in/for the USVI. I had the same adjustment of thought to having grown up as a Michigander -- you can imagine how hard my jaw dropped when we looked at a $250k home a few years back that had a 40 ft. line running (hanging loose) about 8 feet off the floor from the hole punched in the master bedroom outer wall down the hallway to connect with the stove and the dryer! After stuff like that, it gets pretty easy to forget about range hoods and relatively cheap smoke detectors.

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Posted : September 2, 2006 4:38 am
SallySmith
(@sallysmith)
New Member

@debralu 

It seems even in 2021 that smoke detectors aren’t required or the property manager is unethical! My son died in an electrical fire in June of 2021. Not one article in any newspaper. Previous electrical problems, no smoke detectors and metal slats on windows. He was only living there about a month. Had I known the situation I would’ve sent him smoke detectors! If your landlord doesn’t install them, put them in yourself. 

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Posted : August 20, 2022 3:13 am
vicanuck
(@vicanuck)
Expert
Posted by: @sallysmith

It seems even in 2021 that smoke detectors aren’t required or the property manager is unethical! 

Our building code is much the same as Florida's and I'm certain that hard wired smoke detectors are a requirement in new construction and renovations. I just completed a major home reno and included hard wired smoke detectors because I thought they were required. They may not be required in rentals, I just don't know.

The issue we have in the VI is a complete lack of enforcement. We have laws and the legislature keeps passing new ones. But, there is very little inspection or enforcement of anything. I own a business and the fire inspector come by once a year to inspect, but, the inspection consists of the person popping in, having a quick chat, asking if everything is okay and leaving. All that for $100.

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Posted : August 22, 2022 8:59 am
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