Is Ignorance Bliss?
The old saying that ignorance is bliss can unfortunately play out very badly for a house corporation depending on the circumstances. Like any landlord, the house corporation expects the tenants to treat the property respectfully and in compliance with the law and life safety practices. But fraternity houses are “dynamic” environments and common sense does not always reign supreme. Consider two scenarios:
Scenario A. Tappa Kegga Day has a party and someone decides it would be fun to spray the fire extinguishers in the air. During the night, a candle starts a fire, there are no extinguishers to help contain the blaze and injuries result. The house corporation is sued for lack of fire extinguishers yet is exonerated because there was no way for the house corporation to know the extinguishers had been discharged (assuming there were adequate extinguishers originally).
Scenario B. The fire does not occur until a year after the party. A house corporation, like any landlord, is expected to maintain reasonable knowledge of the condition of the property. The failure of the house corporation to have checked the fire extinguishers for such a long period is sufficient to impose liability and possibly take the case from simple negligence (which might have been the case) to gross negligence where punitive damages become allowed.
There are many adjustments we could make to the scenario such as the chapter returning the empty fire extinguishers to their wall slots and whether or not the chapter is able to manipulate the gauges to show the tanks are full or empty to allow us to look at many alternative outcomes. But the main points are to know when ignorance is not bliss and when the house corporation has the duty to regularly inspect the property. Since chapter houses are routinely high maintenance, it is safe to assume that inspections should happen frequently. If the chapter is on notice that inspections will happen on certain dates, it will likely trigger some clean up that otherwise might not happen. That’s real bliss!