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thought provoking issues for fire alarms and adjoining property owners
June 4, 2018
thought provoking issues for fire alarms and adjoining property owners
    Generally, it is well settled law that a property owner has an obligation [duty] to keep its premises in reasonably safe condition.  This duty will include the obligation to make reasonable inspection of the premises.  What duty does a property owner have to make sure its fire alarm system is operating properly?  Conversely, what liability would a property owner face if it knew its fire alarm system was not operable?  And, what liability would you, the fire alarm company or monitoring company have if you also possess that knowledge?
    Commercial property owners don't install fire alarm systems, have them inspected regularly and monitored because they want to, it's the law, they have to.  A monitored fire alarm system is generally required by building codes to occupy the building; you need the fire alarm system in order to get the Certificate of Occupancy.  Knowingly operating your building without a working fire alarm system would be a violation of [some] law.  If you are in violation of the law you are also presumed to be negligent and can be held liable for damages.  It stands to reason that an adjoining property owner would think it's neighbors followed the law and had operable fire alarm systems being monitored.
    A fire break out and spreads to adjoining property.  Would the property owner be liable?  What if the fire alarm company notified the property owner [or tenant] subscriber that the fire alarm was not operable and could not be reliably monitored?  How would it look if the property owner clearly had notice from the alarm company and chose to ignore the situation and refuse to authorize repairs?
    What about the alarm company's liability if it knows the alarm is not operating?  Does your answer change depending on whether the alarm company notified the property owner?  Failed to notify the property owner?  Should the alarm company notify adjoining property owners?  How about the AHJ, who could then notify anyone it wanted? 
    Property owners need to look to the law for an answer, and under the right circumstances I think a property owner could be liable to adjoining property owners.  [same issue may arise with security systems when adjoining property owners share common walls or basements or other adjoining areas].
    Alarm company liability, I believe, will likely depend on the terms of the contract with the subscriber - property owner.  What if the alarm company had no duty to repair, just monitor?  What if the alarm company has a duty to repair when called, but was not responsible for monitoring - and by that I mean the system was monitored on site, not by a wholesale central station selected by the alarm dealer?  Would it be prudent for the alarm company to notify the AHJthat the system is down or that monitoring has been terminated?  What about adjoining property owners?  I think the AHJis reasonable, not adjoining property owners.  Could a subscriber claim that the alarm company was being malicious if it contacted the AHJ?  What if the property owner and alarm company are in a dispute over who has to repair the alarm and bear the cost, which is causing delay in getting it fixed?  What if the call to the AHJcaused the building to be shut down?  
    This thought provoking article caused me to modify the Fire All in One, adding this:
    "Alarm Company may in its sole discretion notify AHJif Alarm Company’s services are to be terminated or have terminated or that the fire alarm system is not functioning and Alarm Company is unable to provide monitoring or the fire alarm system is otherwise non-compliant with applicable fire codes." This was added at the end of the Notice paragraph on the front page of the Fire All in One.
    Be sure to update your commercial fire alarm contracts now if your contract was purchased before 2017.  There were many changes since January 2017, including the change just made.  You don't have to wait until January 2019 to update your contracts, and continue signing your subscribers for the next 7 months on old contract forms.

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Ken Kirschenbaum,Esq
Kirschenbaum & Kirschenbaum PC
Attorneys at Law
200 Garden City Plaza
Garden City, NY 11530
516 747 6700 x 301
516 747 6700