Fires are every homeowner and renter’s worst nightmare – although we have insurance to cover the tangible items, we fear losing sentimental items and even harm to the occupants and ourselves. When fires begin due to landlord negligence, an even deeper pain is felt. Landlord negligence resulting in fires is not only a betrayal of the terms of a lease agreement, but it is a completely preventable incident that should never happen. While fires can occur in any structure and start for negligent and non-negligent reasons alike, landlords whose negligence leads to fires and subsequent injuries must be held accountable. In premises liability cases, attorneys will focus on the actions property owners failed to take in preventing potential injury – in this blog, we will look at what landlord negligence is, how it can lead to fires, and what to do if you or a loved one is injured in a fire due to negligence.
What is Landlord Negligence?
In nearly every state, there are specific guidelines for the responsibilities of landlords to their tenants. In general, landlords must provide a safe, habitable living space for tenants and must ensure proper upkeep of appliances, wiring, and other electric work to ensure no fire hazards are present. When wiring, switches, plugs, or appliances are not properly maintained, fires may occur. For example, if a landlord notices a pest has chewed through wiring but the wires go to an uninhabited apartment, he may disregard it in favor of fixing it later. If the wires are live and begin to spark, insulation or nearby materials could catch fire. Because of his knowledge of the broken wires and failure to fix, or take meaningful steps to begin to fix it, the landlord committed an act of negligence. Issues like this can arise in many situations such as improperly maintained gas lines, sub-par wiring for plugs and switches, and old appliances and light fixtures. Alternatively, landlords not keeping a building to proper code, including not having proper exits or using improper building materials, can be negligent. For example, if your apartment has a front door and a back door, but the back door is unable to be opened because it has not been properly maintained, this is an unsuitable fire exit. If a fire catches and you are unable to escape through the front door, the back door is your only exit – an exit that cannot open.
Common Causes of Fire in Rental Properties
Fires can start for many reasons, including non-negligent acts. However, it takes experts in the field of forensics and fire science to determine the true cause of a fire. For example, if you are cooking in your oven and a fire starts, it may be easy to blame yourself for causing the fire. Upon further investigation, it is found that the oven has multiple wiring faults, including an improperly placed gas line, and the true cause of the fire was improper installation and maintenance. Other common causes of fires in rental properties include:
- Use of flammable building materials
- Faulty wiring
- Improper installation of appliances, wires, and gas lines
- Poor maintenance of wiring and gas lines
- Old or faulty appliances or lighting fixtures
Fire Damage and Injuries: What’s Your Landlord Liable For?
When tenants are injured due to a fire caused by a landlord’s negligence, they have a cause of action lying in premises liability (negligence). After receiving a clear investigation report showing the landlord’s action or inaction resulted in the fire, the tenant may sue for damages including past and future medical costs, loss of wages, loss of property, and emotional distress. Depending on the state where the fire occurs, some or all these damages may be recovered and, in some instances, punitive damages may be sought to deter landlords with similar issues in their properties from not acting or acting improperly.
Resolving Negligence Before Damages Occur
Of course, it is our hope that landlord action or inaction does not result in fires causing injury or property damage. It takes landlords to be honest with their tenants and do the work they agreed to in a lease agreement. This, however, is a naïve outlook, so tenants must be aware of their surroundings and report anything abnormal to their landlord. Early signs of fire hazards include burnt outlets, switches popping, humming, or sizzling when turned on, the smell of gas when an appliance is used, and smoke coming from anywhere it should not. It is imperative to report any abnormalities to the landlord immediately and, if they are unresponsive, submitting a complaint to the local health department will ensure quick action. It is also important to maintain safe usage of all appliances, not to leave candles burning when out of sight, and to ensure all ashtrays are clean and able to fully extinguish their contents if occupants are smoking indoors.
Schedule a Consultation with a Premises Injury Law Expert
The premises liability attorneys at The Simon Law Firm, P.C. have decades of experience advocating on behalf of tenants injured due to their landlord’s negligence. Our knowledge of the law, combined with close relationships with experts and investigators, puts us at an advantage over negligent landlords and their defense teams. If you or a loved one has been injured in a fire due to a landlord’s negligence, contact The Simon Law Firm today for a free, confidential consultation. Everyone deserves to live in a safe, habitable home and we will fight on your side to ensure the same.