Dangerous situation at PHA properties?

Dear Editor,

I am writing you with concerns of the safety of some of our town’s residents who live in public housing. My concerns are two-fold; fire danger and plumbing shortfalls. I tried reaching out to the city fire department, the county for code enforcement, and the executive director of Peninsula Housing Authority, each giving me different answers and interpretations.

My primary concern is fire risk. I have personally witnessed tenants in Public Housing in multiple buildings in Forks smoking while using oxygen. I have spoken with the driver of Lincare, a medical supplier from Port Angeles, who advised me of the fire risk and his failed attempts to have this issue addressed.

I have attended seminars from fire departments in the state, the CDC, and the COPD foundation which each speak to the dangers of smoking while on oxygen; not only with tanks but also with concentrators. Normally, the air we breathe every day contains about 21 percent oxygen concentration; the air delivered to patients using this therapy contains nearly 100 percent oxygen which allows for fires to ignite quicker and to spread much more rapidly; often with the loss of life when in multi-housing units.

When I discussed this risk with a lady called Kay, the director of the PHA, I was told that not only is it not in her job description to babysit her residents, her authority is only to enforce the lease agreements; she’s not a doctor or a caretaker. She said furthermore that with a reasonable accommodation letter she’d be inclined to let said people smoke inside of the units instead of outside, regardless of oxygen. I asked if increasing the fire risk in her units was contrary to her lease and she told me that it was none of my business and ended the conversation.

I’m concerned about this because I’ve seen it in multiple buildings, multiple units, inside and outside and each unit has been a ground floor unit, each with a person above them, and I understand that to create a higher risk of injury and loss of life by making egress harder for residents entrapped by fire.

My secondary concern PHA affiliated buildings has been lack of hot water expansion valves on water heaters installed after the code began to require them. The plumbing code requires them under 608.3 UPC 2009, current adopted plumbing code for Washington State and I’ve seen a number of units with water heaters with a manufactures date after the rule went into effect. By way of the transitive property, I must assume that they were installed after they were made and therefore don’t meet code.

Being unable to get attention to the fire danger and code violations officially I’m writing you to do what you see fit.

With concern,

M. Alex von Kessler

Editor’s Note: Since the PHA Executive Director was mentioned directly in the letter above she was given the opportunity to address the issues stated in Mr. von Kessler’s letter.

Dear Editor,

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the concerns in Mr. von Kessler’s letter to the editor. As one of largest landlords on the Peninsula, Peninsula Housing Authority (PHA) operates numerous affordable housing programs across a two county area. All of the affordable programs we manage are similar but each has unique regulatory requirements we craft into lease agreements that include compliance with the Washington State Landlord Tenant Act. We also are diligent in maintaining our buildings to comply with local and state building requirements. In the Forks market we operate 96 units encompassing all of the agency programs except Public Housing. My discussion points will be limited to the areas of tenant smoking and water heaters broached by Mr. von Kessler.

Peninsula Housing Authority prohibits smoking in the units at all of its buildings in the Forks area. There are numerous reasons the policy was instituted with one of them being the fire danger associated with smoking in the buildings. Tenants are allowed to smoke in designated areas on the property but not in the buildings. All tenants acknowledge this policy by signing the smoking policy as part of their lease agreement.

While I wouldn’t recommend smoking while using an oxygen concentrator, if the tenant is outside the building smoking, I have no authority to tell them they cannot smoke. We are a landlord and our tenants have the rights afforded all tenants by law and we do not violate their rights. PHA doesn’t have law enforcement capacity nor provide first responder services. Like everyone else in the community, if we observe something that requires those services, we dial 911. If contacted by a tenant informing us of something outside our jurisdiction, we instruct them to contact the appropriate party as well.

Regarding the comment about water heaters without pressure relief valves; we know of no unit water heater within our portfolio that does not have a pressure relief valve. Mr. von Kessler is encouraged to provide the address and unit number where he has observed this to our property management office so we can verify the accuracy of the claim and correct it if true. The office is located in the Catherine of Sienna Apartments, 351 Founders Way.


Kay Kassinger, Executive Director

Peninsula Housing Authority