Woman who went nine months without smoke alarms in rental home wants action

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Smoke alarms are a life-saving device we should all have in our homes, but one Indianapolis woman says she went nine months without them.

The list of problems Shannon Smith has in her rental house is long, but none appears to be as dangerous as the holes in the ceiling where her hard-wired smoke detectors should be, which are empty with wires hanging out instead.

"If nothing else, that should be the easiest thing to fix here," Smith said.

Last April, Smith said those hard-wired alarms started going off all at once. She thought it was an electrical issue, so she took them out. She said her landlord at the time, Mt Helix Property Management, told her to keep them out and they'd send someone to look at the problem. Nine months later, Smith said they had yet to do that.

She decided to take matters into her own hands after seeing a CBS4 story about four young girls killed in a house fire in Flora. The American Red Cross was passing out free smoke alarms to neighbors, and Smith realized she was at a huge risk.

"It really got to a point where I was just like, I have two grandbabies. I don’t want anything to happen," Smith said.

Smith bought two battery operated detectors and installed them herself. She has five kids and two young grandkids at home, though, so she'd like to see the hard-wired alarms fixed so there are enough on every floor and in each bedroom.

"They’re supposed to be there for safety and there is a two and a three year old sleeping in this room," Smith said.

Local housing codes require landlords to install working smoke detectors for tenants.

The CBS4 Problem Solvers went to work for Smith, making calls to figure out who could fix her problem. A man at Mt Helix Property Management said he was no longer in charge of Smith's home, and a week ago she received a letter saying a company called Mt Helix Acquisitions would be taking over.

We talked to MHA's regional property manager, Shamika Funderburke, over the phone. She said the two Mt Helix companies are no longer affiliated, and she had been brought in from Ohio to fix the many issues she said Mt Helix Property Management had been neglecting.

In fact, an investigation by our partners at the Indy Star found that the company had three times as many violation notices as any other property owner in the city.

"I came in to make sure that we are not ignoring it and that we’re taking care of it," Funderburke said.

She said it will take time to correct the many issues tenants are having, but agreed that the smoke detectors are an immediate danger and violation of code.

"Emergency things like the smoke alarms ... we’ll get that taken care of immediately," Funderburke said.

She made good on her initial promise: a day later, a contractor showed up to Smith's home to look into the smoke alarms. He said he would be sending an electrician to look into the wiring.

Smith has been looking for a new home, but said it's hard to find an affordable option for her large family, and she hopes to get this one fixed so they can stay.

"I love this house, I just wish they would fix it," Smith said.

The CBS4 Problems Solvers will continue to follow up and see if Smith's issue are fixed so her house is safe for her and her family. If you have a problem that you'd like us to look into, email ProblemSolvers@cbs4indy.com or leave a message on the Problem Solvers Hotline at 317-677-1544.

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