Fire exits in building code different for apodments

by: Natasha Chen Updated:


SEATTLE -  Proposed legislation to further regulate the building of apodments, or microhousing units, has triggered appeals from community activists concerned that fire safety standards are sub-par.

“The neighborhoods would like to see Mayor Murray instruct the [Department of Planning and Development] to withdraw legislation that is clearly inadequate,” said Dennis Saxman, a Capitol Hill resident.

The proposal includes rules that many apodments have followed already. Townhome-style apodments up to 3,200 square feet and up to 16 bedrooms are required to have one stairwell, with a secondary escape or rescue window from each sleeping area.

Traditional apartments more than 4,000 square feet must have two protected exit stairs.

Building officials and developers of these apodments agree that in a worst-case scenario a tenant’s last resort in the top floors of an apodment on fire would be to jump out the window.

Some people living in these units, and the neighbors complaining about the structures, said the single stairwell is a valid concern.

“The stairways are so skinny that it’d be hard to get a bunch of people down them,” said Andrew McBride, who lives in a Wallingford apodment.

In Capitol Hill Jake Kim also stays in an apodment.

“It’s not good for people who live at the top,” he said. “I’ll just jump I guess.”

Sprinklers and fire walls are required, which officials said would be reliable before one has to resort to jumping out a window.

“In a typical micro apartment your unit exits directly into the stairway, as do all the other units on each floor,” said Greg Hill, an architect. “Smoke goes into this stairway; everybody else who wants to get out has one choice. And that’s to go down the smoky stairway.”

A developer told KIRO 7 these are wild accusations.

Cathy Reines is the CEO of Footprint, a company that has 24 microhousing projects at various stages in Seattle. They are also building similar projects in Oregon and California.

“I think it’s fear. People are afraid of change and afraid of the unknown and it’s a completely different concept across the country," she said

Reines said she feels so confident in the safety of their buildings that she would have her own son live in one.

She said, “The sprinkler system would kick in and you wouldn’t have a dangerous situation with a single stairwell. ...We build to the local codes; I know the local authorities have been out and inspected our properties.”

The Department of Planning and Development said that in a hearing this week fire officials expressed they were comfortable with the standards.