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Oakland Warehouse Fire Follow-Up

In early December 2016, the city of Oakland suffered a devastating loss: 36 young people lost their lives in a warehouse fire that erupted and engulfed the artists’ collective in minutes. The warehouse went up in a fireball as residents, friends and guests made up of artists, students, musicians and poets were watching a concert, enjoying the music and each other’s company.

The blaze struck so fast and fierce that there was no time for escape for many of the concert goers, some as young as seventeen.

Known as the “Ghost Ship,” the warehouse was home to a group of working artists who celebrated art, originality and individuality.

The Bay Area’s housing and living costs have steadily been on the rise, with the average San Francisco apartment costing renters nearly $4,000 a month. The rise in rent has forced working artists, such as those who worked and lived at the Ghost Ship, to rent spaces that despite being able to better afford, do not meet county safety codes.

Though how the blaze was struck is still unknown, the Los Angeles Times reported in late January that “residents and others who were inside the warehouse described it as a firetrap filled with debris and powered by makeshift wiring.” The warehouse was split into multi-levels built by the residents and lessee Derick Almena. In the aftermath of this devastating inferno, it was learned that the warehouse conversion to a living and work space was not approved by county officials, as Almena, nor the warehouse’s owner, Chor Ng, sought building permits for the restructuring of the warehouse.

“The fire has spawned a criminal investigation and scrutiny of Oakland’s tolerance of unpermitted warehouse conversions that houses hundreds of young professionals and urban artists without adequate fire and earthquake protection,” according to the LA Times. Ng is now facing wrongful death lawsuits from grieving family members of those taken on that cold December night.

In an interview with the Insurance Journal, insurance coverage lawyer Omid Safa says that “It’s fair to say brokers and [insurance] agents who are thinking about selling general liability insurance may ask the question: Are you using the facility even sporadically for this type of [work-living] situation?”

When it comes to insuring structures like work places, general liability insurance will cover the cost of the structure and the equipment inside if it is lost in a fire or if it is damaged in a burglary. Because neither Almena or Ng declared how the space was used, insurance reimbursements can be denied, as the space’s use was not made known. “Going forward, Safa said he believes that insurance brokers and carriers will be asking a lot more questions when they are dealing with warehouses in areas that tend to have properties with multiple uses.”

If you own an office building and have not declared exactly how the space is used, your insurance provider can deny coverage if it appears that they were misled. Following county building codes and getting the right type of insurance won’t just protect you, it will protect your residents, guests and customers too.

To find a liability coverage plan that meets your needs, visit CoverHound today.

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