Friday, 8 January 2016

FIRE CODE VIOLATIONS: GO TO JAIL !

Criminal negligence causing death.  That is what a landlord was charged with, convicted, and sentenced to a global sentence of 3 years in prison for in failing to make sure that a rental property that he owned was up to fire-code standards.  The facts of that case can be found in R v. Singh .  This Judge alone trial and conviction was recently upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal.

In this case it is clear that the landlord was aware of the deficiencies and that he actively deceived authorities and tried to avoid installing the necessary smoke detectors and safety equipment.   Conduct that likely was based in trying to save money led to the tragic death of a tenant and a prison term for the landlord.

In R. v. Singh, the landlord knew that he had an alcoholic tenant who would cook in his room on a hotplate.  The landlord did not do enough to stop the cooking notwithstanding the risk to the tenant and other occupants of the building.  On one occasion the tenant fell asleep and set his unit on fire by leaving the hotplate on thereby causing his bed to catch on fire.  Upon discovering the fire the tenant chose to fight the fire instead of fleeing and he perished from smoke inhalation.  A neighbor who helped also suffered burns in the fire and was hospitalized for four days.  Two other tenants from the building fled and escaped injury.  None of the occupants of the building were alerted of the fire by any fire alarms or smoke alarms.  This was the case notwithstanding repeated inspections by a fire inspector.  The landlord had been told many times what upgrades had to be done to the premises to make them compliant.  The trial judge's findings include findings that the landlord misled the fire inspector about who lived in the building and further that the landlord knew the fire systems were not working properly.

The trial judge found as a fact that the failure to have working fire systems in the premises deprived the tenants of crucial time that would have allowed the tenants to avoid injury (presumably by having enough time to perhaps put out the fire or escape from the building). 

Accordingly, the landlord was sentenced to a global sentence of three years in prison.

This case is a reminder that fire systems, smoke detectors, smoke alarms, and other warning systems are critically important as people's lives may be lost if there is a fire and there is no warning that these systems can provide.   For people dealing with smoke detectors, fire alarms, and other fire suppression equipment this case provides a clear picture of the kind of criminal liability that can follow from a tragic incident like this.

The warning is not only for landlords.  Tenants should also be aware that tampering with fire alarms, smoke detectors, fire suppression equipment can cause grave injury and death to people in a building if there is a fire.  The rationale of this case would support a conviction of any person who intentionally interferes with smoke detectors, alarms and fire suppression equipment and there is an incident leading to the death or injury of persons in the building.

Working fire safety equipment is something that the law and the Courts take very seriously as evidenced by the sentence in this case.
Michael K. E. Thiele
www.ottawalawyers.com 

 

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About Michael Thiele

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Ottawa lawyer and partner at Quinn Thiele Mineault Grodzki LLP.  Graduate of Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.  Called to the bar in Ontario in 1997.  Undergraduate degree at Colby College, Waterville Maine, U.S.A.