Member support question: Elderly tenant poses fire safety risk
I have an elderly tenant who forgets food on the stove, which then burns and sets off the smoke alarm. I’m concerned that he isn’t able to live on his own any more but his family doesn’t want him to move out. What should I do?
That’s a tricky situation. As a housing provider, fire safety is an important concern, both for this tenant and for his neighbours. Another concern is the tenant’s right to remain in his housing.
For the tenant’s immediate safety, staff should do a unit inspection to ensure that all fire safety devices are working and that there are no problems with the stove itself. If the tenant is present at the inspection, review fire safety procedures and exits with him. Document the inspection and, if applicable, the safety review.
Next, arrange a meeting with the tenant and, if appropriate, his family. Explain your concerns about his use of the stove and ensure that he understands that if he continues to create a fire risk on his apartment, he could put his tenancy at risk. While the goal is to maintain the tenant’s current housing, it’s important that the tenant understands that if there is no solution he may need to move to a more suitable place.
The tenant and his family members will likely have ideas to prevent future fire risks. Possible solutions could include the tenant carrying a timer with him when he cooks, or the tenant using community supports for meal preparation or delivery.
As the landlord, you can also consider modifications to the unit or stove that could reduce the risk of fire. Could you install SmartBurner elements on the existing stove? Would installing an additional smoke alarm closer to the stove keep the tenant safer? If the tenant does not want to engage in a discussion about the problem or does not agree to any other suggestions these physical solutions may be your only available options.
Suggesting and testing solutions with the tenant may seem like a time-consuming process, but turning over the unit or proceeding with an eviction will certainly take more time. A cooperative approach gives the tenant the opportunity to continue living independently and builds trust between the housing provider, the tenant, and his family.