Fatal injuries resulted from a child’s fall from a fourth floor window in Brookline last week, a harrowing reminder of the dangers around the home. Window safety is easily overlooked, but every parent of young children should keep it in mind during summer months. Landlords, too, have certain legal responsibilities.
Simple Precautions Make a Real Difference
Over 3,300 children fall from windows each year, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Several simple precautions can help to keep children safe around open windows:
Open windows from the top, and close after use
Install window guards and stops
Keep kids from climbing near windows
Be careful of screens – they aren’t designed to support kids’ weight
Open Windows from the Top
Many windows slide open from the top as well as the bottom. Make a habit of opening the top instead of the bottom. Heat rises, so this can actually help cool your apartment or house better than opening the bottom!
Be sure to close and lock windows after using them. As kids grow, they get stronger and more coordinated. Opening a window becomes an obvious way to explore the world!
Windows Guards are Fast and Cheap to Install
Window guards, a type of metal grate, are affordable and easy to install devices that help keep kids safe. Made of aluminum or steel bars, window guards can prevent injuries caused by children falling from windows. These videos from SafeKids and the Boston Public Health Commission show how to put in a window guard:
Window guards and the simple tools needed to install them can be purchased at most hardware stores. They’re also for sale at a discount to Bostonresidents from Building Resources Department at:
Boston BuildingResources100 Terrace St.
Boston, MA 02120
Some models include emergency release, in case of fire. At least one window in each room needs an emergency release or to be free of bars.
Keep Kids from Climbing Near Windows
Toddlers and even larger babies can be surprisingly strong climbers! Move chairs, cribs, shelves and other furniture away from your windows. And remember, if a child does fall, never move them if they appear seriously injured after a fall. Call 911 right away, and let trained EMTs move the child.
Be Careful of Screens
Screens cannot support the weight of a child, and easily break away if a child falls into them. You should take seriously warnings affixed to screens indicating that they will not prevent a child from falling out a window.
Landlords are not specifically required to provide or install window guards in units rented by families with young children. But, they must ensure minimum safety requirements in all units they own, as well as common areas.
Like almost all states, Massachusetts recognizes the implied warranty of habitability, a legal idea that rented property must be presented and kept in a habitable condition. This means that an apartment or rented house must meet local and state building codes and sanitary codes. These codes define what is required for a dwelling to be occupied.
Massachusetts law also says that tenants must have reasonably safe homes. Landlords must correct hazardous conditions in rented areas (unless directly caused by the tenant or guests). MGL c. 186 § 19, “Notice to landlord of unsafe condition; tort actions for injuries resulting from uncorrected condition” requires landlords to use “reasonable care” to correct unsafe conditions, even in private areas.
Chapter 186 orders that landlords remedy unsafe conditions after having been told by tenants or otherwise. A letter sent by registered or certified mail is proof of notification. This law provides a remedy for any person lawfully on a landlord’s property (including a tenant or their invited guest) who is injured by an unsafe condition that the landlord has failed to correct despite knowing of the condition.
If you or someone you know has suffered an injury as a result of a defective condition in a rented property, contact a SUGARMAN principal to discuss your options. Fill out a contact form, call us at 617-542-1000, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.