If you own your own home, a fire in your house can be devastating. The same can be the case if you rent an apartment or a house where a fire breaks out. Damage can be extreme, and you may be out of a place to live. However, you do have rights under those circumstances and, unlike a home owner who carries the full burden of the situation, you share that burden with your landlord who has certain responsibilities in a fire’s aftermath.
Because, as a tenant, you have no ownership of the property, any repairs that must be made after a fire are the total responsibility of your landlord. You may have to do some things to assist in the process, such as remove belongings from the apartment so that repairs can be made without interference. However, as far as the repairs themselves, it is your landlord’s duty to ensure repairs are undertaken and completed in a steady, timely manner.
Just as you are not responsible for damage to the apartment, which you do not own, you are responsible for damage to your personal belongings resulting from the fire. If you purchase a renter’s insurance policy, you will be eligible for compensation for destroyed or damaged items depending on the terms of your policy. An important thing to do is to document through photographic evidence your belongings in the apartment before and after the fire, so as to validate any claims of damages that you make.
You should not have to continue paying rent to your landlord if your apartment is dangerous or unfit to live in after the fire. One way to assess this is to request an inspector from your state’s health department to look at the apartment. If the inspector finds your argument to be justified, you can move into temporary housing until repairs are finished.
If a fire makes your apartment unfit for habitation, you may also be able to cancel your lease, depending on certain conditions and the terms set forth when you signed the lease. Outside of the terms of the lease itself, the repairs to take place must be greater than the cost of a year’s rent, and your own negligence cannot be to blame for the fire. Within the lease terms, there must not be any clause which provides its own alternate terms in the case of severe damage to your apartment. You may also cancel your lease if your landlord is clearly not acting quickly in repairing your apartment after the fire.
Advice for Tenants
Before beginning any proceedings to stop rent payment or cancel a lease, make sure you are aware of any additional state or local laws that govern the matter. You may also want to talk with an attorney to make sure that you meet all the conditions for canceling a lease or so that you can get help in proving the landlord’s negligence if repairs are not being completed in a timely fashion.