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Few things can be as unexpected and emotional as losing your home or business to a fire. When an apartment or rental property is damaged by a fire one question that is often overlooked is who is responsible.

In many cases, the fire was caused or worsened by the landlord’s neglect. In many cases, an apartment fire could have been prevented had the landlord taken basic precautions.

A fire can cause millions of dollars in damage quickly. For renters, the out-of-pocket costs from a fire can be steep. Not only are you burdened with the cost of replacing your lost possessions, but you are also stuck with having to find a new place to rent.

Even worse, you may have been injured from the fire and are now facing a long road to recovery.  Landlords owe duties to their tenets to maintain properties in a safe condition free of defects.

Many landlords carry insurance covering the damages caused by their negligence. The purpose of this insurance is to ensure tenants have an avenue to be made whole in the event of a serious loss.

WHAT CAUSED THE FIRE?

The first step to understanding if you have a good case is to understand what caused the fire. Obviously, a landlord is not responsible for damages caused solely by a tenant’s negligence.

A common example of this may be a tenant who caused knocked over a candle of forgot to turn the stove off. These are actions that are most likely out of the landlord’s control. Some common examples of landlord negligence include:

  • Poorly maintained or faulty wiring
  • Old or faulty appliances
  • Old or faulty lighting fixtures
  • Faulty or poorly maintained smoke alarms
  • Lack of smoke detectors
  • Lack of fire extinguishers
  • Gas leaks
  • Use of flammable materials
  • Improper installation of electrical devices
  • Building code violations
  • Lack of fire exits
  • Blocked fire exits

Even if the landlord’s negligence did not cause the fire, he or she still owes a duty to ensure there are properly working smoke alarms on the property. In many cases, tenants have been seriously injured because they were not adequately warned of a fire. 

WHAT DUTIES ARE OWED BY A LANDLORD

A landlord owes tenants a duty of reasonable care. This means the landlord owes an obligation to take reasonable precautions to avoid a fire. Negligence does not mean that the landlord disregarded your personal safety or knowingly acted carelessly. Rather, evidence that he departed from what was reasonable under the circumstances is sufficient.

Further, a landlord is obligated to comply with all ordinances, codes, and regulations aimed at avoiding the threat of fire. Evidence that a landlord failed to comply with such requirements can help prove your case.

The law also requires landlords to provide a number of important assurances and warranties to tenants. For example, a landlord has an absolute duty to ensure that the property is free from defects and is fit for its customary or intended use.

Under most leases, the landlord is responsible for all structural elements of the property, such as the electrical, appliances, fixtures, and other items that often cause fires. If a landlord’s failure to maintain the property, tenants who have been harmed have a viable claim for damages. 

HOW TO PROVE YOUR CASE

Proving landlord negligence cases are not always easy. A skilled attorney will investigate the fire and engage experts to help prove that your landlord breached a duty that was owed to you. If you are considering hiring an attorney for an apartment or rental property fire, you should understand your attorney’s strategy for handling your case. 

FAULTY WIRING

Faulty wiring is one of the most common examples of landlord negligence and the most common cause of electrical fires in the United States. In structures that are a few decades old, the wiring has not been updated to comply with current building codes.

Older properties often have ungrounded wiring making it more likely to experience power surges. Similarly, some properties still have aluminum wiring that is a known fire hazard. The property may also have an outdated electrical system that may not be able to handle modern electrical appliances.

Unfortunately, many landlords are so focused on profits that they cut corners by hiring individuals to do shoddy work or ignoring obvious problems with the electrical system.

Some common signs that your landlord breached his duty of care to ensure that the electrical system was up-to-date and properly maintained include: 

  • Outlets that do not work
  • Breaker boxes that often flip
  • Blown fuses
  • Mild Electrical shocks
  • Dimmed or flickering lights
  • Outlets that work sporadically
  • Power surges
  • Burning smells
  • Hot fixtures or switches
  • Soot around switches or outlets

Although faulty wiring is perhaps the most common example of apartment fires caused by negligence, a full investigation of the cause of the fire may reveal other causes of the fire.

DAMAGES THAT CAN BE COLLECTED

First, most landlords maintain some form of liability insurance to pay clams cased by their negligence.

Damages that are commonly collected in property damage cases include:

  • Cost to replace lost or damaged personal property 
  • Cost to restore personal property 
  • Relocation expenses 
  • Additional living expenses
  • General damages for mental anguish
  • Punitive damages

INJURED IN AN APARTMENT FIRE

Structure fires can cause serious or deadly injuries. In the event you suffered personal injuries, you may be entitled to damages for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

In catastrophic burn injury cases, the assistance of a life care planner may be necessary to fully compensate you for long-term medical problems. In the case of wrongful death, loved ones may be able to receive compensation for the loss.

If you have been injured in a fire, the landlord may claim that the fire is not his responsibility or push you to his insurance company to negotiate a quick settlement.  If you have been the victim of an apartment fire, you deserve to speak with an experienced professional dedicated to maximizing your recovery. Our team is here 24/7 to take your call and answer your questions.

Author Photo

Jeremiah Johns

Jeremiah N. Johns is a trial attorney who represents clients in insurance, maritime, personal injury, and litigation matters. Raised on a family farm in Southeast Georgia, at an early age he gained an appreciation for hard work and ingenuity. These values form the bedrock of his practice.​ Jeremiah holds an LL.M. in Admiralty from Tulane Law School and a J.D. from Syracuse University, where he graduated with honors. He also graduated magna cum laude with bachelor degrees in political science and economics from Georgia State University.