Do You Know Tenant’s Rights After an Apartment Fire?

By: ROS Team July 27, 2021

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Fires are devastating events for property owners and tenants alike. An apartment fire can ravage the building, and personal property can be damaged by the water and smoke. Whether you’re a landlord who’s experienced firsthand the challenges that come with dealing with an apartment fire or you’re a tenant who’s been impacted by a fire in or near your apartment, it’s never too late to learn about what the next steps should be, especially as it relates to a landlords responsibilities and the tenants rights afterward.

Besides finding temporary shelter, you will have to spend money replacing personal necessities lost in the fire. Depending on the situation, renters might have to share some level of the financial burden with their landlords. Or, if the fire is the result of the landlord’s negligence, you might be entitled to compensation.

The Most Common Causes of Apartment Fires

Apartment fires are scary.  The source of apartment fires can be any number of things, but some of the more common causes are:

  • Cooking equipment
  • Electrical equipment
  • Candles
  • Portable heaters
  • Smoking
  • Faulty wiring
  • Lightning

Landlord’s Negligence in Apartment Fires

Negligence is a situation in which someone acts carelessly without regard to another’s health, safety, or well-being. Action or inaction that causes harm can also be classified as negligence. Landlords are responsible for making reasonable efforts to keep their rental property safe for their tenants. Renters are not responsible for the general upkeep of the apartment building or maintenance issues that may plague the building, such as leaky roofs or faulty plumbing.

Landlords Negligence in Apartment Fires

If the landlord’s actions or inaction, place the health or safety of tenants at risk for harm or cause damage to tenants’ personal property. The landlord may bear the full brunt of the responsibility after a fire. Some landlord actions that may be deemed negligent include:

  • Overcrowding
  • Using out-of-date heating equipment
  • Not addressing faulty electrical wiring
  • Building code violations
  • Allowing in-unit smoking
  • Having an inadequate of fire and smoke alarms
  • Having defective smoke alarms
  • Blocking fire exits

Such negligent acts should be addressed by the landlord as soon as possible. Failure to do so could not only impact the residents in your apartment building but also potentially surrounding neighborhoods.

What are a Landlord’s Responsibilities After a Fire?

According to the warranty of habitability right, tenants have a right to a livable apartment. If a fire destroys the apartment building or any part of their apartment unit. It’s the landlord’s responsibility to ensure the problem is fixed as soon as possible, if not within 30 days.

It’s important to note, however, that the landlord is not responsible for repairing minor damage caused by an apartment fire (i.e. smoke damaged wallpaper).

What are a Tenant’s Rights After an Apartment Fire?

Unfortunately, some apartments are so severe that the building is no longer inhabitable. In those situations, it may be a good idea to review your lease agreement for acceptable conditions under which you can terminate a lease without penalty. If it mentions you can break the lease if the apartment becomes uninhabitable. You may have a way out of dealing with the long journey of waiting for apartment repairs.

If your lease fails to address anything along those lines, you may still be able to break your lease if your apartment is considered a total loss. This designation rarely comes from the landlord but an insurance adjuster.  However, if a tenant contradicts the opinion of an adjuster and files a lawsuit, a judge may agree that the apartment is uninhabitable and allow the tenant to break his or her lease agreement.

But if an apartment is merely temporarily uninhabitable, you probably won’t be able to terminate your lease. In month-to-month lease arrangements, you can terminate the lease anytime given that you provide at least a 30-day notice of your intention to move out.

Who Pays for the Damage?

Most likely, the landlord will pay for the apartment repairs. Chances are he has insurance in place to cover the losses.

Landlords Negligence in Apartment Fires

If you find that the effects of the fire, be it residual smoke damage or mold from the water used to extinguish the fire, are hurting your health. You may be exempt from paying monthly rent until the matter is resolved. Inform the landlord about the problem in writing and give him or her time to fix the issue. If they fail to do so in time, you may be allowed to withhold a reasonable amount of rent. Or you can pay to have the issues repaired and request or sue the landlord for the cost of your expenses.

Tenant’s Negligence in Apartment Fire

Apartment fire tenant rights under the warranty of habitability don’t hold up if the tenant is responsible for causing the fire. So if the building caught fire because you left the burner on your stove overnight or you overloaded your apartment’s electrical outlets. You will have a difficult time claiming any benefits or rights that are ordinarily granted to tenants after a fire.

Laws in most states specifically state that you cannot stop paying rent and move out if you or your family caused an apartment fire. If you broke your lease and are found to be the person responsible for starting the fire, your landlord could sue you for damages.

When to Take the Case in Court

If the landlord’s negligence is the reason behind the fire. You can pursue the case for damage to your health or goods in small claims court.  Apartment fire tenant rights allow you to claim damages in the amount of your security deposit if you left the apartment because it was no longer inhabitable. You have three years after the fire takes place to file a case in court.

Tenants Rights After an Apartment Fire

However, if you do decide to file a lawsuit, you will have to prove that the landlord violated his or her responsibilities. It’s due to their negligence that your apartment became uninhabitable.

Conclusion

Let renter’s insurance be your first line of defense in the event of an apartment fire. Landlord responsibilities after a fire should come as additional insurance in case your renter’s policy does not provide adequate coverage. Remember that homeowner’s insurance does not cover tenants’ belongings, and so tenants should get a renters insurance policy.

Having said all that, it is worth reiterating that tenants rights after a fire do not work if a tenant is a reason for the fire. So, if you’re renting an apartment, be careful to keep your things in order and be extra careful using anything that may cause an apartment fire.