Truly, Denmark is a prison...
September 23, 2005 8:44 AM   Subscribe

My girlfriend is studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark this semester. On Monday there was a rather serious fire in the kitchen of her "dorm." Nobody was hurt, but the response and follow-up has been less than ideal. Please help us get someone to take action.

At around 3:00am on Monday one of the girls got up to use the bathroom, and saw that the kitchen was on fire. No smoke detectors were sounding. She attempted to sound the fire alarm, but it didn't work. She went door to door waking people up, while another girl tried the other fire alarms (the third one worked). The fire department showed up before it spread to the rest of the building, but the kitchen is totally destroyed, and many of the surrounding rooms (common room, dining room, etc.) were damaged beyond use.
The fire was clearly an electrical fire caused by one of the refrigerators. Ten days before this, the residents had reported that one of the refrigerators had frayed wire and standing water behind it. The maitenence guy for the building told the school that he sent someone out to look at it and that they found it to be OK. This guy has a well-established history of telling the school that he has fixed things which he in fact has not.
The fire chief was there at some point after the fire and told them that the building had passed inspection at some point in the past, that no smoke detectors was not against fire code, and seemed to think that one in three fire alarms working was good enough. Surely Danish fire law cannot be this lax?
The air quality in the building has obviously been affected. Talking to my girlfriend just now, she was coughing and clearing her throat the whole time. The fire department has said that the air "should be ok to breathe", but they (the students) can't get anyone to actually come and test it. They were told on Tuesday that air filters had been set up (they had not), and again on Wednesday (they still had not), and now finally on Friday they have two small filters for the entire floor. Guess who was supposed to set them up, and told the school that he had done so on Tuesday.
Many of the girls have been psychologically affected by this event as well, and have had trouble sleeping, been anxious, etc. The school brought in two "psychologists", who everyone immediately realized were not professionals at all, and did nothing to help.
The school seems to think that everyone is overreacting, and keeps telling people to "calm down."
The problem is really this: the building is privately owned, and rented by the school to house students. It is very run down, and is to be torn down next year by a new owner. The school doesn't think that the building is their responsibility, and the new private owner is a secret because the transfer of ownership is not complete yet. Nobody feels safe in the building now, but nobody knows who to talk to to get any of this resolved.
I have suggested talking to a lawyer, and possibly the press (the building has a history of being the worst student housing in the city) just to put the pressure on.
They would like an assurance that the building is safe to be living in, or to be relocated. Any ideas on what they can do, or who they can talk to, to get some action here?
posted by Who_Am_I to Law & Government (6 answers total)
shitty there anywhere else she can live? It sounds like the school has no motivation to keep up building, since it's renting, and the current owner doesn't care, since the building is being sold. I would advise finding somewhere else to live, if at all possible.
posted by cosmicbandito at 10:54 AM on September 23, 2005

Man, that's terrible.

I second the idea of talking to the Danish press - popular action, especially by fellow students who may have experienced similar mistreatment by the university's housing department, might help your girlfriend get more support if legal action does take place (though IANA[Danish]L). Maybe the Danish government (or the city of Copenhagen) has a department of housing or urban affairs that can help, or at least let your girlfriend know what she's entitled to as a legal resident/student visa holder. Perhaps they can inspect the building again, give her a history of the building's problems with previous inspections, or give her a copy of the official fire code.

Also, I think your girlfriend's home university back in the States needs to know about this, especially the study-abroad office who contracts with the university in Denmark where she's studying. The more information they have about the incident - maybe eyewitness reports and documented complaints that have gone unresolved, as you mention above - the better they can fight for your girlfriend. Does her university have an on-site representative who can negotiate with the Danes?

If her home university is part of a larger consortium of campuses that send students to this university in Denmark, maybe this report could somehow be incorporated into a "student feedback" section of study-abroad materials students view when choosing a program, prompting far fewer students to consider the program in the future.

Getting higher-ups at her university to threaten the Danes with the cancellation of the program (again, especially if this sort of thing has happened in the past) and the loss of cash that would entail might be enough to either arrange a better housing situation or contract with better landlords. Would your girlfriend be willing to move to another part of town? Immediately? A more expensive, less-convenient part of town? The university might attempt to present such an unappealing solution that no one would take in an attempt to save themselves the hassle of moving everyone mid-semester and the bad press if they're the lame bureaucrats you present them as.

At my university, studying abroad was usually more expensive that staying home, especially for students in the Euro zone and in Britain, and maybe twice as much for things like food and housing in capitals like London and Paris, even when subsidized or contracted through a third party, in a situation like seems to have happened here. And if I'm spending more, I expect - at least - the same safety standards that I've got at home, especially if your home university's got a brochure full of happy Americans and Danes living in super-futuristic-looking Scandinavian apartments.

Best of luck!
posted by mdonley at 11:14 AM on September 23, 2005

Page describing protection to Danish renters here
posted by mdonley at 11:29 AM on September 23, 2005

Would you mind posting what dorm we are talking about? I ask because special law may apply and it will help to find out what authority it would be apropriate to contact. AFAIK with a private landlord, the people to contact would be the local communal 'huslejenævn'(house rental board). A shared office for the boards in cph can be found at the address on this page.
I'm not completely sure about this.
posted by Catfry at 2:06 PM on September 23, 2005

Mind you the above board is probably not one to take swift action and it is not likely that your girlfriend will se action during her time here.
posted by Catfry at 2:31 PM on September 23, 2005

I would feel better in her place owning my own fire alarm, and having a good rope in the room just incase a quick escape was needed.

I have spent a lot of time in Denmark. If there is one thing you can trust Danes to do, it's complain about injustice. I am pretty sure most of her neighbours are at work on this.

If, however, she wants to take action, she could call the fire department. It's one of those rare countries where most every organization has someone fluent in English (If she doesn't speak Danish). They'll fine the hell out of the landlord.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:28 PM on September 23, 2005

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