Home and apartment fires claim lives and destroy property. Victims face unexpected medical bills, replacing their possessions, and finding short- and long-term housing, all in a flash. The emotional trauma overwhelms. Then, the question remains, where does the responsibility lie for all of these sudden expenses?
In Texas, the cause of the fire, the terms outlined in the tenant’s lease and any insurance coverage, all determine the answer in apartment fires.
Landlord Responsibility in Texas Apartment Fire Damages
Tenants often feel that owners of apartment buildings should bear the responsibility for fire losses. Certainly, the owners of the buildings are in a better position financially than most tenants. Often tenants may simply assume the landlord has some type of insurance to cover the damage. Usually that is not the case. Insurance carried by landlords typically covers the premises and building damage, any of the landlord’s personal or business belongings, and third-party liability associated with landlord negligence. Lack of coverage for tenant belongings leaves many victims of apartment fires unprotected and unprepared.
Generally, the landlord accepts liability for tenant losses only for landlord negligence – for example, landlords who fail to maintain an apartment properly where faulty wiring starts the fire. Negligent landlords may assume liability even when the negligence does not directly cause the fire.
- Failure to meet applicable construction fire code standards in the unit or the building leaves the landlord liable.
- Failure to supply or maintain in-unit smoke detectors that delay fire response times creates additional landlord liability.
- Storing hazardous goods that accelerate the fire could increase landlord responsibility.
- Blocking emergency exits, halls or passage ways that prevent victims from escaping make landlords more culpable.
Tenant stress suffered after an apartment fire is significant. Landlords that receive several requests to repair faulty smoke detectors and fail to respond are specifically negligent. This intentional infliction of distress contributes to legal liability.
Landlord liability for property losses, injuries, pain and suffering, and the cost of relocation form the foundation of many apartment fire lawsuits. A landlord found guilty of negligence means fines, reparations, or even jail time.
Landlord Negligence That Does Not Increase Harm
Landlord negligence in non-contributory areas, such as a hole in the wall, roof, or window, broken water heater, mold, or rodents, does not increase liability in the case of a fire.
Sometimes, third parties assume apartment fire liability. For example, fires caused by defective appliances, lamps, or other products may hold the manufacturer or supplier legally responsible.
Victims do find recovering damages impossible, in some cases. The negligence of another tenant is a good example of this. Most tenants cannot personally pay the damages, unless they carry renter’s insurance to cover their losses, and those of other tenants.
Renter’s Insurance Covers Losses
Renter’s insurance covers some losses for tenants, both those who started the fire, and those who did not. Policies vary. An explanation of the coverage from the insurance agent representing the policy assures peace of mind.
Determining the liability for apartment fires requires determining the underlying cause of that fire. An investigation by experts is complex and often time consuming. Expert opinions sometimes differ. Each insurer attempts to avoid liability in the process.
Tenants should always keep a record of all communications with the landlord, in writing. Documenting each conversation helps in any dispute, especially in court.
Ultimately, tenants in Texas find that carrying renter’s insurance for themselves gives them the greatest likelihood of making a successful claim. You have legal options in the event of an apartment fire, even without renter’s insurance. Determining the cause and legal liability is the first step.