LYNN — Lynn Fire is urging landlords to adhere to building zoning requirements after noticing a recent influx of illegal apartments in the area.
At approximately 8 a.m. Monday, firefighters responded to a 911 call reporting a fire at High Rock Street. The fire was contained to the basement of 51 High Rock St. and left behind no injuries or casualties. However, District Fire Chief Joseph Zukas said that the fire started in the apartment-converted basement of a two-family home — a set-up that he described as illegal and dangerous.
Zukas said that firefighters discovered another illegal apartment on Spencer Street last week after responding to reports of a gas smell inside a residence. Converted basement apartments, he said, can be particularly dangerous as they lack the exits or escape windows necessary in the event of a fire.
“There can’t be anybody living in these types of places,” Zukas said. “An apartment has to have two egresses, and a lot of basement apartments don’t have that. It [an apartment] has to have a fire escape window that’s big enough for the person to escape out of. It also has to be big enough for a firefighter to be able to get in and out of with all our gear on. That’s what the building code requires for any bedroom or any apartment.”
The High Rock Street fire was believed to be caused electrically, and is currently being reviewed by the city’s Inspectional Services Department.
Zukas said that Lynn firefighters have been discovering more illegal apartments than they have in the past. He speculated that the influx of illegal apartments is likely the consequence of increased demand for cheaper housing amid rising rent prices.
“It seems to be more common because rent prices are so high and people are trying to save money and landlords are trying to make more money and squeeze as much profit out of their buildings as they can — but it could come at a dangerous cost,” Zukas said.
While converting a basement into a rental unit might be profitable, Zukas said that in the event of a fire, property owners could be held personally liable for any injuries or fatalities that occur on their property if the area is not kept up to code.
“If anything happens, any injuries or worse, the owner of the building is going to be negligent and could possibly face serious consequences,” Zukas said “There is a potential, if somebody in the future is hurt in any building fire that’s involved in an illegal apartment, then the landlord is liable.”