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Premises liability claims may stem from building code violations

In 2013, a student from Boston University died in a tragic apartment fire. She was unable to safely evacuate her overcrowded off-campus residence when the only exit became blocked by the fire. In the wake of this seemingly preventable death, officials in this Massachusetts city will be conducting inspections of off-campus housing for students, looking for building code violations that, if unchecked, may end up being the basis of premises liability claims.

The inspections are expected to be focused on those dwellings that have been listed by more than four undergraduate students at area colleges and universities. In 2008, a city ordinance was passed that limited the number of undergraduate students in a single dwelling to four, regardless of the size of the residence. After the student's death, even more changes were made, all in an attempt to prevent students from residing in dangerous conditions.

There are some who question the legality of these scheduled inspections on the basis of the violation of privacy. However, more than 30 colleges provided the city with the addresses of all off-campus students in conformity with a federal statute. The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act allows schools to provide officials with a limited amount of so-called "directory" information, and students and parents must notify the school if they wish for their information to remain private. For this slated inspection, the schools only included addresses without listing names or other private information.

Inspectors with the city of Boston in Massachusetts have identified approximately 580 residences that may be home to more than four students. The ultimate goal of these inspections is to prevent further tragedies and to hold landlords and property owners accountable for any building code violations that are discovered. Likewise, any residents who have suffered an injury due to possible negligence on the part of a property owner are entitled to seek redress for their financial damages by way of a premises liability civil suit.

Source: boston.com, "City Will Inspect Off-Campus Student Apartments, And It's Legal", Julie Xie, Jan. 8, 2015

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