What Are a Tenant’s Rights After an Apartment Fire?
An apartment fire can take everything from you: your clothes, furniture, and your sense of security. On top of the emotional toll, there’s the financial burden of replacing everything you lost. Renter’s insurance only covers so much.
Tenants have rights after a fire. Learn what they are to protect yourself.
All Dry USA can repair what the fire damaged. Call us today for emergency repairs, so you have more time to handle the rest.
What Are the Most Common Causes of Apartment Fires?
Fires can happen even in a brand-new home with new wiring and appliances. They result from various reasons, whether accidents, dangerous behavior, or neglect. Some common causes of apartment fires include:
- Faulty Wiring
- Cooking Appliances
- Electrical Appliances
- Smoking Indoors
- Portable Heaters
- Lighting Fixtures
- Cooking Fires
The Role of Negligence in Apartment Fires
Negligence, by law, is when one party does not take proper care to do something. Someone acting negligently is failing to act with the appropriate amount of caution for the circumstances.
Negligence matters in apartment fires because it identifies that someone could be responsible for the incident. Depending on how the fire originated, the landlord or the tenant could be deemed negligent. Negligence can be a careless action (not turning off an appliance) or the lack of an action that should have occurred (not installing a fire alarm).
Determining negligence can affect insurance claims and the burden of responsibility for the cost of repairs.
A landlord is responsible for providing a habitable and safe home for its tenants, no matter where they live or what they pay for rent. A fire that has started due to a landlord’s negligence would render the landlord responsible for paying for the damages and repair. The charges increase if the apartment is uninhabitable.
Landlord negligence can be any number of things: a failure to do something or intentionally doing something wrong. Here are some examples of landlord negligence that could contribute to a fire starting:
- Overcrowding (letting too many people stay in the building or individual apartments),
- Bad wiring
- Not keeping the building up to code
- Not installing smoke detectors
- Not making fire extinguishers available
- Not having fire alarms in the units or buildings
- Letting fire exits be blocked
Any combination of these issues could lead to a fire and make the landlord responsible for paying for the damage. However, there are degrees of responsibility. If the damage is slight, such as lingering smoke odors, the landlord may not be obligated to repair the damage.
The landlord also doesn’t necessarily have a timeline for completing the repairs. Check your lease: some leases may have a clause that allows you to end your lease due to fire damage. If the apartment is only temporarily damaged, you may not be able to get out of your lease.
Tenant rights vary from state to state and based on the circumstances.
If you, the tenant, are responsible for starting the fire, the “habitability” clause will not apply. The landlord does not have to pay to fix damages if you were responsible, even if the damages have rendered the apartment uninhabitable.
Tenants also have an obligation to act responsibly and with reasonable prudence. Negligence includes:
- Leaving the oven or stove on
- Keeping heated equipment on and plugged in (hair curlers, dryers, straighteners, toaster ovens, slow cookers, etc.),
- Leaving headed blankets or personal heaters on and unattended
- Leaving candles on and unattended, etc.
Leaving anything electrical on or open flames unattended could lead to a fire and constitute tenant negligence. It’s the tenant’s responsibility to take care of the apartment and not cause any harm.
There’s a higher likelihood of tenant negligence being a factor, considering almost 50% of house fires started because of cooking incidents.
If you are deemed at fault, even if your home is uninhabitable, you can’t get out of your lease early or refuse to pay rent.
Are Landlords Responsible for Apartment Fires?
Yes and no: it depends on how the fire originated. If the fire is due to landlord negligence, the landlord is obligated to pay for damages and repair the apartment in a reasonable amount of time. If the damage is minor, they may not be obligated to repair it.
However, if the tenant was the at-fault party, the landlord is not responsible for the damages. Instead, that burden falls on the renter.
Who Pays for the Damage?
The landlord would be responsible for repairing the damage if found at fault (i.e., through negligence). In some states, if the damage has made your home uninhabitable, you may not have to pay rent until they complete the repairs.
Regardless of state laws, make sure you document the damage in writing. You’ll also need to give the landlord a reasonable amount of time to remedy the issue.
If you’re the one who’s responsible for the fire, you’ll have to finish out your lease and continue to pay rent, even if the apartment is uninhabitable. You’ll be responsible for paying for the repairs and finding another place to live during that time.
What Are a Tenant’s Rights After an Apartment Fire?
If you live month to month, you should immediately make your intent to leave known and move to a safer apartment.
In some situations, there may be grounds for you to break the lease without having to pay a fee. The ruling will depend on the damage and whether the apartment is habitable.
If your lease is a full year and the landlord is dragging their feet about making repairs, you may need to hire an attorney. They will protect you against someone else’s negligent actions, which in this case would be your landlord. An attorney can help you get out of a lease that isn’t being appropriately upheld and ensure you won’t have to pay for an incident that wasn’t your fault.
Knowing When to Pursue Damages
Suppose the landlord is responsible for repairing the fire damage, but they are refusing to pay or forcing you to stay in an uninhabitable place with no intention of fixing anything. It may be time to take your case to court.
Going to court can allow you to claim back your security deposit. It can also help you protect yourself against your landlord trying to claim anything against you. You can take this claim to court up to 3 years after the fire.
Dealing With Fire Damage? Let Us Help!
Dealing with the legal issues after a fire is stressful enough—don’t make the repairs more burdensome than it has to be. Contact All Dry USA for fire and smoke damage restoration. Our trained technicians are ready and available 24/7 to help you get your life back on track.