COLUMBUS, Ohio – State Senators Bill Beagle (R-Tipp City) and Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering) today reintroduced legislation aimed at keeping renters safe in the event of a fire. The bill requires a separate means of egress for all dwelling areas above the second story of a residential rental property.
“When a fire breaks out, tenants have only moments to make a decision about how to safely escape. Every second counts and ensuring that an escape plan is in place is critical,” said Beagle.
The need for a change in the law became evident after two University of Cincinnati students, Ellen Garner and Chad Kohls, were trapped in a third story attic bedroom when a fire started on the second floor of the off-campus house. The only safe exit from the room was an internal staircase, which quickly became engulfed in smoke. The 36-foot jump from a third story window onto the cement pavement was not a viable escape route. After the two students attempted an escape through the smoke-filled stairwell, they passed out from smoke inhalation before the firefighters could rescue them. Ellen and Chad later passed away at a nearby hospital.
Rental homes with more than two stories are not required to have secondary means of egress under current law. Additionally, it is common for landlords to convert attics and upper floors into bedrooms, often leaving internal staircases as the only possible means of egress. This practice is often seen in off-campus housing statewide and poses a serious threat to students.
“Egress ladders are an underutilized, inexpensive and potentially lifesaving tool,” said Lehner. “We need to make sure our families, neighbors and children can get out safely.”
“As many colleges and universities resume classes, it’s important that we raise awareness about the dangers of not having a second means of egress in rental homes in our campus communities,” said Beagle.
In response to testimony and discussions regarding Senate Bill 359 last year, the bill now includes language clarifying that landlords will have qualified immunity should the ladder be misused or malfunction occur while in proper use. If adopted, landlords will have 180 days after the bill’s effective date to comply with the new law.
State Representative Rick Perales (R-Beavercreek) reintroduced similar legislation today in the Ohio House. Both bills now await referral to committees in the respective chambers.