‘Safety simply comes first’
The Disputes Committee Wonen Zuid-Holland [Housing South Holland] recently declared a complaint from a tenant regarding the removal of coat hooks in the corridor of a student complex in Leiden to be unfounded. The fire department had summoned DUWO to remove the hooks after an inspection of the property. Richard van der Straaten, social steward for DUWO in Leiden, explains: “The corridor is an escape route in case of fire. For fire safety purposes, the fire department ordered us to remove all obstacles in the corridor. We gave tenants an opportunity to hang the coat hooks in their own rooms. Most of them took advantage of that opportunity.”
One tenant had trouble finding a place for coats and filed a complaint. The matter ended up before the Disputes Committee. After a hearing last year, the committee found in favour of DUWO. Van der Straaten: “We tolerated the situation in the past because the fire department gave us that leeway. Together with the tenants, we tried to turn the coat hooks into a seasonal feature, only holding winter coats in winter and summer coats only in summer. This was not successful, after which the fire department ordered us to remove the hooks. The fire department has had trouble gaining access to complexes in the past as a result of such obstacles. DUWO completely agrees that this compromises the safety of tenants and that is not something we want.”
Fortunately, differences of opinion between DUWO and tenants rarely end up before the Disputes Committee. Van der Straaten: “Changes in complexes, or the introduction of new management measures, are carried out as much as possible in consultation with the tenants. In all our complexes, there are student caretakers who are in close contact with the other tenants. As social steward I regularly discuss management issues with them, such as fire safety and hygiene. A great job!
The safety of our properties is a shared responsibility. We do all we can to ensure this safety, in consultation with our tenants. That works in almost all cases, just not in this one. However, when it comes to safety, we do not make compromises. I would rather tell people to remove a coat hook than tell their parents that their son or daughter was unable to escape from a burning complex in time. Safety simply comes first.”
In an interview in the Leidsch Dagblad, DUWO recently received a compliment from the fire department for its safety policy. You can read the article here.