An Accidental Fire Caused by Tenant – What to Do

About Ronemus & Vilensky

The attorneys at Ronemus & Vilensky prepare each case as if it were going to trial, whether it does or not. If the insurance company does not offer a fair settlement, we will be prepared to try the case in court.


Accidental Fire Caused By Tenant

According to the National Fire Prevention Association, there are about 100,000 rental property fires a year, causing billions of dollars in damages and hundreds of insurance claims.

Some of the most common sources of fire are cooking equipment, electrical equipment, candles, portable heaters, and smoking. A tenant, for example, can cause an accidental fire by forgetting about a burning candle that causes the apartment to become uninhabitable.

Maintenance issues and property negligence also have been the source of many devastating fires. These include building code violations, faulty electrical wires, defective electrical outlets, neglected electrical panels, faulty smoke detectors, lack of fire alarms, and the lack of functioning self-closing doors.

Who Covers the Costs of Fire Damage in a Rental Property?

A property owner or manager is responsible for purchasing commercial property insurance to cover damages to the structure in the event of a fire. Owners/managers must make sure they buy enough insurance, which is typically based on the total insured value of the property. Working with an agent and insurance company to determine how much insurance to carry on a rental property is prudent.

When renting out a home, property owners should have homeowners insurance for the structure, again, with sufficient coverage.

It’s important for tenants to understand that, although a landlord’s insurance does cover the structure for damage, it does not cover their personal contents. Tenants need to buy a separate policy for their personal property.

Renter’s Insurance

Renters insurance for tenants will cover their personal property — clothing, electronics, furniture, etc. A renter’s policy also includes liability insurance to provide protection to tenants should someone get injured in their apartment or home. Some renters policies can also include coverage for additional living expenses so that if there is damage to the home or apartment, the tenant will receive monies to help with staying at a hotel or other rental property while repairs are made.

Some landlords and property owners require tenants to buy liability insurance as part of their lease provisions. Liability insurance can be purchased separately or as part of rental insurance coverage.

Steps Landlords Should Take After a Fire Causes Property Damage

Above all, make sure everyone is evacuated and safe, and call the local fire department. Assess the property damage and document the damage caused by the fire. Take photos or a video of the damage — as long as it is safe to do so. Also, take steps to mitigate further damage and contact the insurance company. The insurance company will conduct an investigation to determine the cause of the fire. The company’s adjuster will summarize the damages and prioritize where attention should be focused. The adjuster’s report will also be used by the contractor, including fire restoration companies, to make repairs to the property.

Making Repairs, Helping Your Tenants Find New Housing

If an apartment becomes damaged and uninhabitable by fire, water damage, or other problems that were not caused by the tenant, then the tenant may leave the apartment and cancel the lease with three days’ notice to the landlord. The landlord has an obligation to maintain the rental premises in a habitable condition. Or, the landlord pays for the tenant’s alternate housing. A landlord may also be liable for the tenant’s inconvenience, lost wages, and damaged personal property if the fire was due to the landlord’s negligence.

However, if the tenant caused damage to the apartment making it uninhabitable, the landlord may not be responsible for repairs. In most states, tenants cannot stop paying rent and move out if they are found responsible for the fire. If the tenant breaks the lease and is found responsible for the fire, the landlord could sue for damages.

Determine Liability

A fire department’s report will provide insight into the cause of the fire. To help determine liability, an attorney will review the report and ask pertinent questions. For example, some questions will include: Was the fire caused by an electrical system failure? Or were there several factors that contributed to the fire? How bad is the fire damage? Were all devices, such as fire alarms, smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, etc. in working order? Were there any issues with the electrical wiring? Were tenants able to exit without any problems? How long will repairs take? What are the terms of the lease and is the lease based on a month-to-month or fixed basis? Are there insurance provisions in the lease?

Collect Details About Your Rental Property Fire ASAP

It’s critical in the aftermath of a fire that property owners, landlords, and tenants know what to do and that all details are properly documented.

Learn More About What Landlord Insurance Pays for After a Fire

As we discussed, typically, the landlord’s commercial property or homeowners policy will pay for damage to the rental property due to a fire. Tenants can also file a lawsuit to pay for the costs for damage to their personal property, medical expenses if they were injured, wage losses, and other expenses. But if the tenant is found responsible by a preponderance of evidence for accidentally causing the fire, the landlord’s insurance company may look to the tenant’s renters insurance company to recoup costs.

Contact the Attorneys at Ronemus & Vilensky

If you have been a victim of a fire, contact the attorneys at Ronemus & Vilensky for a free consultation. Our experienced personal injury lawyers handle injury cases caused by fire and have recovered millions of dollars in damages to cover financial losses, including past and future medical bills, loss of earnings, pain, suffering, and more.