Fire safety in apartments: residents are also responsible under the law
In September 2021, a mother-daughter duo were killed in a fire that broke out in an apartment near Bannerghatta Road. After the incident, whether in the media or in discussions with friends and colleagues, there was sudden interest and a wave of questions about who can be held responsible for fires in tall buildings. Just last week, another apartment fire near Electronic City put the issue into question.
Often people conclude that the fires are due to the negligence of the builders. Builders could either construct buildings in violation of the sanctioned plan or resort to bribery and obtain certificates of occupancy (COs) without complying with applicable laws.
But what about residents and apartment owners in these buildings? Are residents mere victims or do they also have responsibilities under the law? If so, where does the responsibility of the constructor end and where does the responsibility of the inhabitants begin?
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What do the rules say?
On July 7, 2011, pursuant to orders made by the Honorable High Court of Karnataka in a written petition filed by Beyond Carlton Trust, the Government of Karnataka issued a notification specifying measures to be followed by builders, owners and residents to prevent the risk of fire in high-rise buildings, that is, buildings 15 meters or more in height.
One of those measures that has been notified is the requirement to receive a fire safety certificate, which we generally refer to as the fire department’s NOC, before the BBMP can issue a certificate of occupancy. The builder generally assumes this responsibility.
But what happens once an OC is purchased, when would the builder have left the project? Interestingly, the notification concerns the guarantee of fire safety after occupation also.
Obligations of residents with regard to fire safety
As part of the notification, to ensure regular compliance with fire safety laws, three main obligations were imposed on residents and Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs). These come into play once residents start occupying apartments.
First, the fire safety certificate issued by the fire department must be renewed once every two years with the BBMP.
Second, residents should ensure that the biennial check of the apartment complex is carried out by a fire officer and a representative of the RWA. At this stage, a report will be formulated by the fire department explaining the conformances and deficiencies.
Finally, every two years, the RWA must provide an affidavit explaining the operational status of the fire safety system as well as the report from the fire officer, the fire department and the BBMP. A surprise check could also be performed by the inspector appointed by the fire department once every two years to verify the same.
The notification clearly states that residents and the RWA are responsible for certificate renewal, biennial verification, and submission of an affidavit of compliance. Failure to do so could lead to legal consequences.
What are the consequences of fire safety non-compliance?
If the deficiencies notified in the report are not rectified or, if rectified, not informed to the fire department officer within three months of this notice, not only BESCOM (Bangalore Electricity Supply Company Ltd) will disconnect the electrical connections to the building, but the building itself will be sealed to avoid any risk of fire. BBMP will also have to suspend the Certificate of Occupation issued.
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Residents can enter or exit the building alone after the deficiencies notified in the report are rectified. In addition, the occupancy certificate must be obtained again from BBMP after produce a certificate of conformity issued by the firefighter. Failure to comply with notifications may result in the initiation of criminal proceedings by firefighters under the provisions of applicable laws.
Whenever people are faced with horrific accidents, whether it’s the Carlton Towers fire or an apartment fire near Bannerghatta, they tend to assume that they will never be the ones. victims. However, residents and homeowners can no longer avoid liability for fire hazards that may or may not occur due to their negligence and ignorance by simply blaming the builder.
As a resident, we can avoid the risk of fire, but we cannot avoid the liability under the law.