Tenants should focus on safety, officials stress

A group of late-night partygoers at a second-floor Lawrence apartment learned a safety lesson the hard way last fall, when an overloaded deck collapsed.

Approximately 20 Kansas University students were packed on the deck at the apartment, 925 Ark. Two people were injured.

Students can protect themselves from such incidents by assessing the safety of a house or apartment before signing the lease, said Brian Thomas, director of the Off-Campus Living Resource Center.

“The best thing is to keep a good head on your shoulders,” he said. “If there are one or two things that are wrong, three to four are probably going to pop up later on.”

Thomas said a good place to start was with City Hall. All rental properties have to meet city safety standards and undergo some kind of regular inspection. The inspections are public record.

The landlord also can answer questions about safety, Thomas said. He urged students to ask landlords how old the building is, when the last structural inspections were completed and if the wiring has been replaced since the building was constructed.

Thomas said students should also ask themselves if they feel secure. Is the neighborhood well lit? Do all sliding doors and windows have safety bars? Were all keys from former tenants accounted for?

Landlords should be able to help with some of these safety concerns, Thomas said. Landlords usually provide safety bars for sliding entrances and should have locks replaced if there is a possibility someone else may still have a key.

Those living on campus face different safety challenges. Ken Stoner, director of student housing, said while the buildings are safe, student behavior can lead to unsafe circumstances.

Last fall in response to the death of a student who fell from his seventh-floor room at Oliver Hall, the student housing department attached stickers to each window able to be opened at all the residence halls. One is on the glass and warns that removing the stickers would bring a $125 fine. The other is attached to both the screen that covers the window and the frame beside it.

If that sticker is damaged, the fine is imposed.

“It calls more attention to it,” Stoner said of the stickers. “It’s an additional reminder to the students, and any reminders about safety are helpful in the scheme of things.”

Stoner recommended that students use common sense and think about what actions would be safe. He said students need to make sure they lock their doors, watch for suspicious people or situations, and leave objects that have open flames or exposed heating coils at home.

To learn more about safety guidelines for rental properties, go to www.lawrenceneighres.org. The Web site also has complaint forms for tenants, so they can alert the city to safety-code violations.