Who is liable in an apartment fire?

Being a victim of an apartment fire is a bad enough situation, but what happens when it comes to liability? Discover who is liable in this situation.

When an apartment building is ravaged by fire, who is responsible for rebuilding and all the related expenses for fire damage? The answer to that question is not simple because liability requirements vary depending on the situation.

General liability scenarios

In a fire, the landlord's responsibility is usually limited to covering the cost of rebuilding the structure, according to Rent Prep. The landlord will usually have an insurance policy that will cover the damages, including any injuries sustained.

Anything in a tenant's apartment, though, is his or her responsibility to replace. Tenants should have renter's insurance to cover the replacement of their belongings.

However, that liability can change depending on why the fire started and who it can be attributed to. A fire that was a result of the landlord's negligence is often 100 percent the responsibility of the landlord . A fire started by a tenant usually becomes the tenant's responsibility.

The role of insurance

When it comes to a landlord's negligence that started the fire, a renters' insurance company may pay out to the tenant but seek out repayment from the landlord. According to Albion Agencies Inc. Insurance, if the fire is found to be the fault of a tenant, the landlord's insurance will usually make payments for repairs upfront and then proceed to go after the tenant to recoup the money paid out.

Typically, the tenant will receive a letter stating he or she must pay a certain amount in damages within a certain amount of time. If the tenant ignores this demand, the insurance company will usually take him or her to court to recoup the money lost. If the tenant has renters' insurance, though, it may step in and pay the amount owed to the landlord's insurance company.

The law

In general, the law holds the party responsible for the fire liable for the damage. When a fire occurs, a tenant can cancel his or her lease if the building is not livable. Rent paid in advance in such a situation must be returned to the tenant, along with any security deposit. However, if only part of the apartment is not livable, the landlord only has to reduce rent by a portion equal to the damaged portion, but he or she also must repair the apartment to make it livable again.

Finally, the law prevents landlords from trying to get out of being liable for damages by including provisions in a lease. Landlords cannot make tenants waive their rights to a jury trial and cannot make them excuse the landlord's liability for property damage due to his or her negligence.

In an apartment fire, the goal should be to rebuild and get back to normal. If you have questions about what to do if you find yourself in this situation, you can contact Chiariello & Chiariello.