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Your Rights as a Tenant After an Apartment Fire

Your Rights as a Tenant After an Apartment Fire

Pulling into your apartment complex after work, you find the road to your apartment completely blocked by first responders. You maneuver through back roads only to discover your apartment engulfed in flames.

Panicked thoughts run through your mind:

How did this happen?

Where do I go?

...Do I still have to pay rent?

It may seem unlikely, but this exact scenario happened to some tenants in a Hermitage, Tennessee, apartment complex in April 2023.

Apartment fires are unfortunately common. People leave stoves or ovens unattended, have candles burning that tip over, use unsafe space heaters, or accidentally start fires from cigarette embers. There were about 338,000 house fires in the United States in 2021.

Today, we'll cover tenant rights after an apartment fire so you don’t have to scramble to figure out your next step:

  • Who’s Responsible After an Apartment Fire Occurs?
  • Tenants' Rights After an Apartment Fire
  • How Can Renters Insurance Help You in the Case of a Fire?
  • How To Document Fire Damage for Insurance Claims
  • Top Legal Resources for Tenants
  • Final Thoughts: What Are Your Tenant Rights After an Apartment Fire?

Who’s Responsible After an Apartment Fire Occurs?

It’s important to understand your lease terms and who was at fault for the fire (determined by the fire department), as it will impact each person’s responsibility.

Let’s break down the circumstances for each potentially responsible party:

The Landlord’s Responsibility:

If the landlord’s negligence causes fire in the apartment and damages your personal property, the landlord may be fully responsible for the aftermath. Examples of landlord negligence can include:

  • Blocked fire exits.
  • Absent or broken smoke alarms or smoke detectors.
  • Missing safety equipment like fire extinguishers.
  • Refuse or other flammable materials improperly stored.
  • Not repairing faulty electrical systems or faulty wiring.

If sufficient evidence shows that the landlord was negligent, they may have to pay for replacing your belongings and repairing property damage. Your insurance company will go after the landlord in a process called subrogation to help cover costs so you can get fully compensated.

Regardless of negligence, the landlord will be responsible for fixing the apartment building.

A Negligent Neighbor’s Responsibility:

If another tenant’s negligence caused the fire and they have insurance, their insurance may provide some compensation for your losses. If you’re insured with Goodcover, we’ll work this out on your behalf after you make a claim.

Your Responsibility as a Tenant:

If you’re not at fault for the fire, you are not liable for the fire damage.

However, as a tenant, there are still several tasks you need to handle, including:

  • Filing your insurance claims. Fire claims may be more involved, especially as firefighters work to determine the cause.
  • Replacing any burned belongings.
  • Seeking medical care if necessary.
  • Finding a place to stay temporarily. If you have renters insurance, temporary housing (loss of use) can help pay for this.
  • Documenting all communication with your landlord, others involved, the fire department, and insurance companies.

Who Pays for the Fire Damage?

When an apartment fire occurs, your landlord is generally responsible for fixing the apartment structure, while you'll be responsible for covering your own property.

The landlord's insurance company will most likely cover the apartment repairs, while your renters insurance company should cover your personal belongings — if you have renters insurance.

Goodcover’s personal property coverage.

Most landlords will take responsibility and repair the property. However, a landlord occasionally refuses to repair the apartment but insists you keep paying rent. If that happens, you can:

  • Communicate to your landlord about the problem and record your conversations.
  • Seek help from tenant advocacy groups.

Tenants' Rights After an Apartment Fire

You have rights after an apartment fire, regardless of who is at fault. Let’s explore what those rights entail:

Can I Break My Lease?

Sometimes, apartment fires do enough damage that you can’t live in your rental unit. While you always hope the landlord does the right thing, sometimes landlords will try to hold you to a lease on an apartment you can’t live in.

In that case, you may be able to use a constructive eviction defense to protect yourself. Some leases may also have fire clauses that spell out how and when the lease will be voided.

Do I Still Have To Pay Rent?

If your lease can’t be terminated, and your apartment requires repairs before it becomes livable again, you may have some options but rules vary by state.

For example, California law allows you to leave immediately without giving the landlord or property owner any notice, or paying rent, if you feel the conditions are so bad for habitability that you can't remain in the property.

In Arizona, you should give the landlord 10 days’ written notice to make the repairs — five days if the issue threatens your safety or health. If the landlord doesn't fix the problem within the specified time, you can terminate the lease and get your security deposit back.

If you're a Texas tenant, you should send a dated letter outlining the needed repairs to the landlord. If the landlord doesn't make the repairs within a reasonable time (the law presumes seven days) after receiving your notice letter, you can do the following:

  • Terminate the lease agreement.
  • Repair the damage and deduct the cost from your rent.
  • Get a court order to have the landlord repair your rental property.

In Nevada, you must give the landlord 14 days' written notice requesting repairs before taking any legal action.

If the landlord fails to make a reasonable attempt to repair the problem, you can:

  • Terminate your lease.
  • Sue the landlord to recover actual damages.
  • Repair the problem yourself and deduct it from your rent.
  • Withhold rent and deposit it in the justice court’s escrow account as a defense in court if the landlord attempts to evict you for rent nonpayment.

Can I Seek Compensation for Injuries?

You have the option to sue if you’re injured badly, as long as you didn’t start the fire.

To protect your rights and maximize your chances of a favorable outcome, attorneys recommend taking the following steps when you’re injured:

  • Recover your personal and legal documents, such as leases, driver's licenses, and birth certificates.
  • Take photos of and record all damages when safe.
  • Seek medical attention.
  • Contact a lawyer for legal advice quickly.

How Can Renters Insurance Help You in the Case of a Fire?

In the event of a fire, renters insurance may cover you in two ways:

  • Replace your personal belongings that were destroyed in the fire.
  • Help pay for temporary housing coverage (also known as loss of use coverage).
Covered perils by Goodcover Renters Insurance.

For personal property coverage, your losses may be covered up to the limits stated on your policy. Personal property coverage limits with Goodcover range from $10,000 to $100,000.

In terms of temporary housing, your insurance company may reimburse you for covered stays such as Airbnb or hotel stays and additional food expenses. You’ll have to cover your regular month’s rent, though.

Your renters insurance provider may also be able to help cover the extra costs you incur if your commute to work becomes more expensive because of a necessary evacuation that leaves you traveling further to work.

However, it's important to note that loss of use covers additional living expenses to maintain your living standards. For example, if your gas costs $50 per week and now costs $75 per week, insurance can cover the $25 difference.

That also means if your groceries cost $100 per week, you can't go out to lobster dinner daily when you usually eat burgers and expect renters insurance to reimburse you for everything. You need to provide receipts before claims can be processed.

In certain circumstances, we can help with hardship cases. You can contact Goodcover if you're having issues getting into a temporary place. But note that approval of hardship cases may take a few days — it's not instant.

Other covered additional expenses often include:

How To Document Fire Damage for Insurance Claims

How to document fire damage for insurance claims.

After reporting the fire to your insurance company, the next step is documenting all the fire and smoke damage. Start with these three tips:

  • Capture videos and photos of your apartment and any destroyed or damaged personal property.
  • If you did a home inventory in case of an insurance claim (which we highly recommend), now would be the perfect time to pull it out. It exists to make this type of loss more manageable.
  • Submit any requested documentation or receipts to make claim substantiation simple.

Insurance claims for fire can sometimes be more involved due to the nature of the incident. However, at Goodcover we prioritize efficient claims processing. More than 80% of our fire claimants receive their settlement check within 53 days.

If you’re affected by an apartment fire, the following resources can provide value and support:

Final Thoughts: What Are Your Tenant Rights After an Apartment Fire?

Having renters insurance can protect you from the consequences of a catastrophe or other people's negligence. A renters insurance policy will give you peace of mind knowing that if your apartment burns down, you can replace your belongings and have coverage for additional living expenses.
Contact Goodcover to get a quote for affordable renters insurance today.

Note: This post is for informational purposes; insurance regulation and coverage specifics vary by location and person. Check your policy for exact coverage information.

For additional questions, reach out to us – we’re happy to help.

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