Housing: Why the Government Needs to Change the Current Fire Codes

Why Current Fire Codes Don't Make Sense

There are many problems and inconsistencies with the fire codes that we have in place right now. The first and foremost is the rule about two occupants per bedroom, maximum, in a rental property, but as many as you like in a condo. Potentially not enough space in the hallways in case of fire? Is that the issue? This would be a more plausible explanation if not for the fact that condos have the same size hallways as apartment buildings. The only difference is that apartments are simpler and cheaper to get into, so some minimal level of regulation must be maintained to keep out abusers of an unlimited tenancy rule. However, the current rules still must be changed, as they are not family friendly.

People are complaining about the American replacement rate. One of the reasons that our replacement rates are so awful is the sheer expense involved in raising children. This is overwhelming and oppressive to those with families who need to rent an apartment, and so only gives yet another reason for people who are undecided to choose NOT to have children. There are, of course, those who would say, "Be responsible. If you can't afford the children, don't have them." Well, I have some problems with that. Are all parents irresponsible who are not upper middle class or greater? I guess those folks who are so worried about their financial future in the event of children are exactly the kind of people who don't do it, but should be having the kids, right?

Secondly, it is definitely true that if you asked any adult whether children should have a comfortable and happy life, I do not believe that you will find one person who would say no. I hate to say this, but you and I both know that this is not reality. And even poor people have the freedom and right to children. Is it not better that the child is alive and living in a loving family than living in a wealthy and privileged one? I can lay pretty safe odds that the kids themselves would answer yes. To be a good parent, to have your children feel loved, does not require being rich. Yet the laws in America seem to discriminate against those who have families but not so much money. By forcing families into larger, more expensive apartments and thereby making child-rearing so expensive in America is definitely a part of why graphs show that America will be surpassed in population by many Islamic countries not too far down the road. These laws give our radical enemies a distinct advantage and a reason to look forward to a day when only superior weapons (and that's only if Russia doesn't do anything stupid by supplying weapons to these radicals) will make America stronger than them - and not numbers. Another fact is that for those with large families who absolutely cannot afford expensive houses, otherwise law-abiding citizens are forced to lie on their rental applications just to avoid going broke - and how much more so in this recession. This is very unfair. These people also will live lives of uncertainty, knowing that they could be evicted for violating fire codes at any time. Rules with no understanding like these facilitate common feelings such as "the government doesn't know what's best for you, so it's legal as long as you don't get caught" and the "us vs. them" mentality towards law enforcement. Also realize that one who already feels forced to break a rule is more likely to break a second rule than if they hadn't been put in the corner in the first place.

One last thing is that there are religious sects - such as Catholics or Orthodox Jews or a few other branches of the church - who feel it somewhat obligatory to have children if possible. To force these people to rent large and therefore expensive apartments is to potentially bankrupt them because of their beliefs. This punishes the religious groups for not being liberal Protestants (do not misunderstand - some branches of Protestanism are very religious) or some other group who does not have similar beliefs, and borders on discrimination and a lack of separation between church and state. Some states have high rental prices and a high population of people belonging to the aforementioned religious groups - like Rhode Island, for example. At 64% Catholic and with a large Orthodox Jewish population, fire codes are a real problem (especially with the inflated housing prices) and wildly unpopular. States like Rhode Island are good reminders of just how unfair fire codes can be.

If we change fire codes to allow more tenants per unit, could it make trouble?

Well, families needing smaller apartments would cut into the bottom line of some landlords and ignite some protests, but I doubt that landlords would be foolish enough to exit the current high demand market for rentals. Then, later on, once these rules become standard and considered normal, even without the high demand market, nobody would even think of the rules as a new thing they didn't like and get angry about, because these rules would have been around for a while. Therefore, this is the optimal time to fix the fire codes. There would also be those who would argue that making it easier for families to rent apartments would hurt home sales. However, if these families being affected by the fire codes are already looking for cheaper apartments, they would most likely not be able to afford a house, especially now, with no sub-prime loans available. All that revising fire codes would do is permit families who currently don't have any good legal housing options to live more normal, less paranoid, lives.

What should we do?

My recommendation is to change the current fire codes to more people allowed per bedroom, not an unlimited tenancy rule. Even though the rental fire codes would therefore remain inconsistent with condominiums' unlimited tenants allowed, the change might be better done in this fashion. This is because rental apartments are typically easier and cheaper to get into than condos so some minimal safeguards must be maintained to prevent those who would abuse the unlimited tenancy rule from getting in. The revised fire codes, however, that I am proposing are still far more family friendly than the current ones. I am proposing that we change the fire codes as follows: A maximum of two to three residents for a one bedroom depending on square footage instead of the current two tenants. Then four to six residents for a two bedroom (depending on square footage), and seven to nine residents for a three bedroom apartment (depending on square footage), and lastly, nine to eleven residents for a four bedrooms below a certain threshold of square footage and an unlimited number of tenants from a single family (parent(s), children) above that threshold. I won't even mention five bedroom apartments because they are so rare and expensive. You may ask: why is it advantageous to rent apartments of the same square footage, but fewer bedrooms? The answer is that rents are typically based more on the number of bedrooms than the square footage. Plus, because the revised system more on square footage, lifestyles would not have to be compromised. Therefore, under these revised rules many families would become legal as far as housing goes that used to not be, and yet many other families would need a far smaller rent hike than they would have originally needed to become legal. With more reasonable laws like these, the rules could be taken more seriously, as could violations of the rules. There are many problems and inconsistencies with the current fire codes and this is a way that we could fix them.

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