Boston University Student’s Death In Fire Shows Safety Risks of Older Structures

Binland Lee was 22 years old and set to graduate from Boston Univeristy later this month. Tragically, she is dead today, killed last Sunday, April 28 2013, in a three-alarm fire that tore through her apartment in Allston. Beyond Ms. Lee’s fatality, nine additional residents and another six firefighters suffered injuries in the blaze. According to the Boston Fire Department, the fire was started by careless smoking. The Suffolk County District Attorney’s office is investigating to determine if criminal charges are warranted in the tragedy.

Aside from the possibility of careless smoking, there is an equal if not greater concern here: The dilapidated state of a great many of apartment buildings in Boston – especially in Allston and Brighton, which are “home” to thousands of BU students every year, who live in off-campus housing. Aside from being a Boston, Massachusetts burn injuries lawyer, I know this very well, because I grew up on the side of Brookline just down the street from these areas. I’ve seen them a million times, and been in them many times in my younger years. To be kind, many of them are one step above a slum: Virtual dumps and firetraps that haven’t been upgraded in decades. In many cases, they’re also overcrowded, housing a greater number of occupants than they legally should be. Liability for injuries sustained in such dilapidated buildings falls under an area of law known as Massachusetts premises liability.

Initially, that may well have been the case in this tragedy. News reports have stated that nineteen persons lived in this building, located at 87 Linden St, Allston. A city of Boston ordinance prohibits more than four unrelated college students from sharing or occupying the same dwelling. As of the date of this post, city officials have stated that no less than six of the 19 residents were students from BU. According to a city Inspectional Services spokesperson, the last time that the building was inspected was in 1992 – 21 years ago – and the building owner was allegedly cited by the city for operating an illegal rooming house. According to Ms. Lee’s uncle, Da Ren Kwong, when her mother visited her in Boston, she expressed concerns about the building’s safety. According to Mr. Kwong, Ms. Lee’s mother saw exposed wires on at least one wall, but Ms. Lee assured her mother all would be well. While the property owner’s lawyer has claimed that the building has passed inspection many times in the ten years his client has owned it, the city Inspectional Services Department disputes that claim, insisting that their records show that the last time the building was inspected was in 1992.

While the particular legal battle over whether this building was in compliance with building codes and safety requirements, the overall point is that too many apartment buildings are old, dilapidated, and fire hazards. People – especially college students who historically have never minded living in older, less-desirable housing – need to be very careful about making sure that the building that they live in has passed all local and state building codes and fire safety codes.

Kwong, young Ms. Lee’s uncle, told reporters that Lee wanted to go to graduate school for marine biology. Tragically, that will not happen now.