Hanoi tenants struggle with new fire rules

By Quynh Nguyen   October 4, 2023 | 03:00 am PT
Hanoi tenants struggle with new fire rules
The parking space of a mini apartment building in Hanoi's Cau Giay district where Viet Quoc rents. Photo courtesy of Quoc
After a recent fire at an apartment block in Hanoi , Ngoc Han’s landlord has been demanding that she change her vehicle or move it elsewhere due the fear her electric bike could catch fire.

Hearing rumors that the fire was due to an electric bike short-circuiting, Han’s landlord decreed that this type of vehicle must be moved from the residence to ensure safety.

The fire in a 10-floor mini apartment building in Hanoi's Thanh Xuan district killed 56 people, including children, and injuring 37 on Sept. 12.

When authorities concluded that the cause of the fire was due to a regular motorbike, 29-year-old Ngoc Han thought that everything would soon blow over.

However, on Sept. 19, she and other owners of e-bikes were shocked to receive a notice ordering them to park their vehicles somewhere else or they would have their leases terminated. Electricity on the first floor was shut off, leaving Han nowhere to charge her bike.

After the fire, many owners of mini apartment buildings such as Ngoc Han's have taken steps to strengthen fire safety measures. However, many of the rules that they introduced were so rigid and strict that it was difficult for the residents to follow, and it complicated their lives rather than helping them stay safe.

The place where Thanh Trung stays in Cau Giay District has not banned e-bikes, but there is a rule that this type of vehicle can only be charged before 10 p.m.

If the residents want to charge beyond that time, they have to monitor their vehicles. Additionally, all rooms must switch from a gas stoves to electric stoves. Anyone who violates these rules will be fined VND500,000 ($20.46) each violation. After three violations their lease will be terminated.

"But who can spend an entire night to monitor their e-bikes, and spend millions to buy an electric stove along with a new set of pots and pans?" Trung asks.

The 20-year-old student plans to end his lease in November. In the meantime, he eats takeouts every day as he cannot use his stove, though he has yet to find a solution for his e-bike.

Aside from new regulations, some renters are put into a helpless bind when some mini apartment complexes had to close down for being unable to meet fire safety standards.

Viet Quoc, a 20-year-old renting at a mini apartment building in Hanoi's Cau Giay District, found himself in this situation. On the night of Sept. 20, he received a notice telling all residents to move out before Sept. 24.

This notice left everyone bewildered, especially families with young children who found their lives flipped upside down.

"Of course, complying with fire safety rules is important, but at least the landlord should have complied with it from the start, so renters don’t fall into the same situation as me," Quoc says.

Currently, Quoc is staying at a friend’s place and is counting the days until his building can be opened up again.

Dao Ngoc Nghiem, Vice President of the Vietnam Urban Planning and Development Association, states that refusing renters who own e-bikes or requesting them to move their vehicles are not viable solutions.

The infrastructure of inner Hanoi does not allow for the construction of a large-scale public parking lot. Moreover, it is not efficient to focus solely on banning e-bikes when there are other fire safety hazards to consider, he says.

"There needs to be a comprehensive safety solution instead of simply giving out bans, which can affect people’s lives," Nghiem says.

Lieutenant Colonel Pham Thanh Tam, Vice-Captain of Hanoi’s Zone 2 Fire and Rescue Team, says that separating e-bikes from other vehicles in the parking space is necessary to prevent fires. E-bikes may not be the direct cause of the fire, but when one does break out, they can help the fire grow.

In order to avoid affecting his renters’ lives and business, Huu Tung, a 37-year-old owner of an eight-floor mini apartment building with more than 30 rooms in Thanh Xuan District, installed a specialized fire alarm and sprinkler system on each floor, he removed steel cages from all rooms, and does not accept any renters with e-bikes.

"I don’t want to have to create new rules every day. It’s tiring for me to explain, and renters would also find them to be a hassle," Tung says. "I don’t want them to leave because of it."

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