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‘Sample’ inspections frequently turn up smoke detector problems in Columbia

The issue was flagged at an apartment where children died in a fire.


City of Columbia inspectors often note problems with smoke detectors during large rental property inspections, according to records obtained by ABC 17 News.

The problems are often quickly fixed, according to the reports from the Office of Neighborhood Services. Sometimes detectors only need a battery replaced and inspectors consider the fixes made onsite. At least two complexes required a total replacement of smoke detectors due to problems inspectors found between 2020 and 2022.

One of those two was Columbia Square Townhomes, where a fire killed two children in December. The fire killed Ta’niyah Pate, 4, and Jyneisha Washington, 7 on Dec. 14 on Claudell Lane. ABC 17 News noted the problems inspectors found in the summer of 2022, calling on the complex to check on, fix and sometimes replace all smoke detectors.

Columbia Fire Department Chief Clayton Farr told ABC 17 News that the Columbia Square Townhomes fire is still under investigation. Farr said the unit where the fire happened had only one smoke detector present, which did not work. Farr did not say if investigators found any other smoke detectors during its investigation.

While the International Property Code says that property managers are ultimately responsible for the upkeep of smoke detectors, Farr said residents should also pay attention to their detectors. That includes weekly tests of each detector.

“It ultimately falls to all of us to be safe and verify that what we need to be safe is present in our spaces,” Farr said.

Residential buildings are required to have smoke detectors in the following places:

  • In every bedroom
  • On the ceiling or wall of the hallways outside any bedroom
  • On each floor

All smoke detectors have to be less than 10 years old. Farr said commercial structures including apartment complexes have to ensure all smoke detectors are interconnected, meaning if one detector went off, it would set off all of the others.

ABC 17 News requested inspection records for four other apartment complexes chosen based on their size and location.

  • Inspectors found that the smoke detectors at The Adora on Brookside Lane were all older than 10 years in May 2022. The city required the complex to replace all of the smoke detectors and ensure they were hard-wired throughout the units.
  • A report noted nine issues with smoke detectors at Broadway Village on East Broadway in March 2020. The city said many of those issues were fixed on the spot.
  • Two properties owned by Mills Properties, Heather Ridge and Boulder Springs, had no violations found during their inspections in 2020 and 2021, respectively.

Complexes' certificates to operate are renewed every three years, prompting a new inspection. The city inspects all commercial rental properties.

Columbia city code allows property owners to request 30% of their units to be inspected to get a rental compliance license from the Office of Neighborhood Services. ABC 17 News first reported in December that Yarco Property Management requested the reduced inspections in 2022. The city did not have any records to indicate if inspectors looked at the specific unit where the fire happened during this.

In the records requested, Mills Properties and Broadway Village asked for the reduced inspections during their compliance checks.

Columbia is not the only city that offers property owners the option to inspect a certain percentage of units. Lawrence, Kansas, recently upped its percentage from 10% to 20% of a complex's units for inspection. City code official Brian Jimenez said the city's commission felt the percentage gave inspectors a good idea of what the landlord's units looked like.

"The percentage sampling was done to keep the city’s cost reasonable as inspecting every rental unit on a periodic cycle would require more staff which would substantially increase the required budget for the program," Jimenez said. "The Governing Body also thought a sampling would give City staff a good representation of the overall condition of a landlord’s rental portfolio."

Farr said residents and landlords should avoid removing or disconnecting smoke detectors. Leaving them in place with fresh batteries allows them to serve their purpose as a "silent watcher," Farr said.

"Soon as we leave or one of our inspectors leave or one of the Office of Neighborhood Services inspectors leave and the property owner or tenant somehow alters what was present 10 minutes ago, we may not find that again until another inspection occurs," Farr said.

Fulton fire chief Kevin Coffelt said that city does not perform inspections of rental housing. New construction or major renovations of housing requires a smoke detector inside and outside of each bedroom and at least one detector on every level of the house.

Boone County attorney C.J. Dykhouse said the county does not require any periodic inspections of rental units.

Article Topic Follows: Columbia

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Lucas Geisler

Lucas Geisler anchors 6 p.m., 9 p.m. and 10 p.m.. shows for ABC 17 News and reports on the investigative stories.


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