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Smoke Detector Law Could Work Better for Fire Officials

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FAYETTEVILLE — A new law, fining landlords who do not provide smoke detectors in their homes, is being questioned. It is supposed to put more teeth in the enforcement process, but some fire officials say it could work better.

A little boy died in a mobile home fire inCumberland Countylast week. There was a smoke detector there, but nine other people died in Cumberland County last year in homes without them. The County Fire Marshall's Office is powerless to impose fines against landlords who ignore the law.

Smoke detectors save lives. State law says they must be provided in rental properties. Cumberland County's minimum housing inspectors investigate complaints that landlords are not providing the safety device. But that is as much as the department can do.

"We only have three housing inspectors so they are tied up on complaints only," said Deborah Simpson, assistant director of inspections department.

A $250 fine can be imposed through the magistrate or district attorney's office if the landlord does not comply, but it takes two written notices by a tenant, state or local agency.

"We have no penalties we can access," said Ricky Strickland, county fire marshal.

Strickland says that process takes too much time. He thinks his staff should be able to impose fines and is asking the county to create an ordinance that says so.

After fatal fires, they investigate whether the home had working smoke detectors. If they find out they do not, they have no jurisdiction to slap a civil penalty on a landlord.

"If we had some enforcement where we could go into structures and find out whether there was or was not a smoke detector, I think with a civil penalty, we would open the eyes of the landlord," said Strickland.

The fire marshal says there is another problem with the law.

It is the landlord's responsibility to provide the smoke detector, but it is the tenant's responsibility to replace the batteries.

Strickland says in trying to find fault in investigations, it often becomes a "he said, she said" situation.


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