Chances are that, at some point in our lives, all of us has been either a tenant or a landlord. The landlord tenant relationship seems simple enough at first, but too often complications arise that leave one or both parties feeling aggrieved. This article is to help the tenant avoid getting burned by the landlord (twice).
One remark at the outset, the importance of which cannot be overstated—BUY RENTERS INSURANCE!
While 95% of homeowners have homeowner’s insurance coverage, only 41% of renters purchase insurance to cover their personal possessions in their home. Putting aside the obvious reason behind the discrepancy being that homeowner’s coverage is often required by mortgage holders, and the occupants of the structure have an interest in protecting the integrity of the structure itself, one might rightly wonder what the reasons behind this massive discrepancy are. Do renters care any less about their personal possessions? Do their family photo albums and books and computers mean less to those who rent an apartment? Of course not. In fact, the opposite is likely true in many cases.
Buy Renter’s Insurance
Residential landlords owe their tenants a duty of care to maintain rental properties and keep them in habitable condition. If a landlord breaches this duty to maintain the premises, and that breach led to a house fire, the landlord could be liable for the damages. Proving landlord negligence in a home fire case may be difficult, and with so much at stake, neglecting to purchase renters’ coverage could leave you literally homeless.
A leading cause of house fires is neglect of repairs. If a tenant makes a landlord aware of certain dangerous conditions on the property, but the landlord fails to make the repairs or otherwise correct the problem and a fire results, this may be the basis of a claim against the landlord. But, in order to even get a claim like this off the ground, the tenant will need to prove that the landlord had notice of the dangerous condition. This means documentation of the hazardous condition, which can be in the form of pictures or videos, and documentation of the notice to the landlord—text or email is likely the most reliable and durable form of notice. Remember, in the case of a house fire, it can literally destroy everything.
Common Forms of Neglect by Landlords
- Faulty electrical wiring
- Lack of smoke detectors
- Pest infestations
- Heating equipment
- Neglected electrical panels
- Defective electrical outlets
- Defective smoke detectors
- Absent or faulty fire extinguishers
- Blocked fire escapes
- Building code violations
Tenants should always do their part to help avoid common causes of house fires by taking proper precautions when doing things like cooking. For instance, never leave cooking food unattended. However, even if a landlord is not directly responsible for starting the fire (such as with a cooking fire), if the proper fire safety equipment is not easily accessible (such as working fire extinguishers or smoke alarms), the landlord may still be held liable for any damages that result.
Another leading cause of house fires is faulty electrical components or wiring. It may seem intimidating, but you don’t have to be an electrician to familiarize yourself with certain warning signs of damaged or faulty wiring, such as:
- Flickering lights
- Inexplicable dimming of lights, or dimming of lights while using another appliance
- Discoloration or soot around outlets and switches
- A burning smell in the home
- Breakers or fuses that frequently blow out
- Outlets, switches, or fixtures that are hot to the touch
- Shocks when you touch outlets or switches
These are just a few prime examples of “red flags” when it comes to danger of electrical fire.
Faulty Repairs – “Self-help”
Many landlords attempt to save money by making electrical repairs on their own, or otherwise without proper permitting and professional expertise. Plain and simple: if your landlord is not a licensed electrician, he may well be liable for your damages if those amateur repairs cause a fire.
Again, one should always report any concerns about fire safety to your landlord as soon as possible, and you may want to consult your local housing oversight or regulatory body as well, particularly if you’re dealing with a non-resident or unresponsive landlord.
Of course, if you notice any potential negligence on the part of your landlord, or been the victim of a home fire, the experienced plaintiff attorneys at Rob Levine and Associates are here to help, 24/7. Reach out today, before you get burned!