It's like being locked in steerage on the Titanic!
August 6, 2011 11:31 AM   Subscribe

Is this a safety code violation? For two years I've lived in a two story courtyard style building in Los Angeles. Someone keeps tampering with the locks and management won't do anything about it, instead, they've opted to permanently chain shut two gates that provide safe exit from the building. The two other pedestrian doors (front door and basement garage door) they try to keep working. Having the side gates permanently chained makes me uncomfortable.

Is this a safety code

The set-up here is a front door on a buzzer system, a pedestrian gate in the automatic garage door into the basement parking area, and two gates on either side of the building that would open from the inside without a key except for the chains and giant padlocks.

Someone in the building keeps tampering with the locks, this is why management chained the two outside gates. When the new front door lock gets tampered with, it locks the lock in place and the door can NOT be opened again until the locking system is reset. The front door is completely unusable at times. Things around here routinely get broken and take a long time to fix.

I could easily see a situation where the front door has shut itself off, the pedestrian gate is broken waiting repair, and the two garden gates are chained shut thus trapping the tenants inside the property during an emergency. In fact, this happened, last week, minus the emergency requiring a building-wide evacuation! Even if the pedestrian gate in the basement were always in good repair, I probably wouldn't go through the basement to exit after an earthquake.

Management is not the best. They have cameras and likely know who is screwing with the doors. A long term tenant is a business in the neighborhood that keeps an apartment as a crash pad for overseas employees, usually younger people in town to party. I think these temporary neighbors are the likely culprits. Either they don't have enough keys to go around, or they were lost long ago. Now, there are a million other solutions for the guest/key problem which don't include breaking locks in an attempt to keep access to the building open. There is a buzzer system for chrissakes. There is eviction. But really, there is a buzzer system.

Solving the who what why is not my problem. It's a great neighborhood and there are no issues besides this with other tenants, it is otherwise a safe and sane place to live.

Is there a code violation in here somewhere? Who do I report it to?

There are chains on the gates that go to the street. These gates are external to the building and on the perimeter of the property, making them the safest exits in a fire or earthquake. The whole thing is starting to remind me of the poor souls in steerage on the titanic. Help.
posted by SockyMcSockyPants to Law & Government (13 answers total)
You could quietly call your local fire marshall. Anonymously request the building be inspected. The only violation would be a fire safety violation. There are codes about the number of egresses from a location that all buildings must meet.
posted by Flood at 11:38 AM on August 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

Sounds wrong to me. Why not pop into your local fire station and ask them? I'm sure they'll have something to say about it, and know where to steer you. (I go to fire stations a lot with my little boy, and have always found the firefighters to be friendly and welcoming to visitors.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:41 AM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Absolutely call the fire department.
posted by desjardins at 11:41 AM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Step one is that you need to have two ways out of the building from your apartment door. Usually that's fire stairs in one direction, fire stairs in the other direction at both ends of a hall. Short side hallways don't count, just the main hallways. At the bottom of the fire stairs there need to be unobstructed doors leading outside.

If the sometimes unopenable front door is one of those doors, that's certainly a violation. And if one of the exits leads into a closed courtyard you can't get out of, and in which you can't get far enough away from the building, that's certainly a violation, too.
posted by beagle at 12:19 PM on August 6, 2011

If proxy fighting your landlord through the fire department doesn't produce a desired long term solution, you might just keep a set of bolt cutters handy in or on your go bag. You're through any normal door chain in about 10 seconds.
posted by paulsc at 12:50 PM on August 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

Nthing calling the fire department (don't call 911 or an equivalent emergency number, just call a direct number) - they'll likely show up with either bolt cutters or an axe. Either way, the gates will be opened.

I've seen this with a landlord who chained the roof doors shut. The roof was an access point to multiple fire escapes. The fire department showed up more than once to break the chains. Extremely entertaining if nothing else.
posted by sciencegeek at 1:02 PM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone! I really needed the reality check and the encouragement to follow through.

I will follow through with the fire department. And I appreciate the suggestion to keep bolt cutters on hand - good thinking!
posted by SockyMcSockyPants at 2:00 PM on August 6, 2011

Fire Department dispatcher here....A fire will double in size every 60 seconds. This is a serious violation of fire codes everywhere. The above advice of contacting the local fire inspector is correct.
posted by JujuB at 3:48 PM on August 6, 2011

If it keeps happening you should also call the L.A. Dept. of Building and Safety and request an inspection.

When I went through the same thing the FD came out a few times and had the manager the remove locks each time, but he kept locking the doors back up. It took the threat of fines from Building and Safety to get them to stop.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:18 PM on August 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

If this is not resolved this weekend, please buy a portable fire escape ladder and keep it handy. That way, if you're home if disaster strikes, you'll be able to get out safely and your neighbors can follow.
posted by Scram at 6:38 PM on August 6, 2011

FYI: Don't just assume bolt cutters will cut the chain. The hardness of both chains and bolt cutters vary greatly. My 42", $175.00 cutters will cut 1/2" rebar like butter but barely scratch the surface of the 3/8" Grade 80 chain on my gate. I seriously doubt your landlord would pay for grade 80 chain, but he might have a little laying around like I did.
posted by buggzzee23 at 7:22 PM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

If the chain is too hard for bolt cutters most locks aren't. Plus the locks are more expensive to replace which would probably increase the time it would take for the locks to reappear.
posted by Mitheral at 10:34 PM on August 6, 2011

Here is information and contacts for reporting code violations in the City of Los Angeles and surrounding areas. You can always report this as a code violation and let the inspectors figure out the exact nature of the violation.

City of Los Angeles Housing Department.
posted by calgirl at 10:35 PM on August 6, 2011

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