What Are My Legal Options If My Rented Property Is Damaged Or Destroyed By Fire? - Jonathan Lea Network

What Are My Legal Options If My Rented Property Is Damaged Or Destroyed By Fire?

Let us suppose you are a tenant and you rent your property on an assured shorthold tenancy (or similar). What is your legal position if the unthinkable happens and the property is damaged or even destroyed by fire?

This is a nightmare scenario. Maybe the fire started because of an electrical fault, a cooking accident or even (as was the case with a client of ours) an arson attack.

This kind of catastrophic event could well have lasting consequences on your physical and mental well-being. Having your home damaged or even destroyed by fire will be a massive disruption in your life and emotionally upsetting too. Possessions may have been lost or damaged.

A priority will be to find somewhere else to live whilst the fire is investigated or things are put right. Friends and family will usually offer help but on a longer-term basis, a more permanent place to live will be needed.

You may be permitted to recover belongings from the damaged or destroyed property.

What was my landlord required to do to protect me?

Your landlord has several general fire safety obligations to you as a tenant, and these are as follows (this is not an exhaustive list):

  1. Working smoke alarms must be placed on each floor of the property. These smoke alarms must be in full working order at all times and tested regularly.
  2. Both carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide monitors should also be placed near the boiler, woodburning stoves and coal fires.
  3. A gas safety record will need to be in place and should have been provided by a professional registered gas engineer to ensure that all gas appliances are fit for purpose. This must be reviewed annually and you, as a tenant, should be provided with a copy.
  4. These same rules apply for electrical appliances which should have undergone a PAT (Portable Appliance Testing) or inspection Survey. Doubtless, your landlord must also sort out any necessary repairs for faulty gas appliances, pipework and electrical wiring. Faulty gas appliances or pipework in your home can cause gas leaks, fire risks and carbon monoxide poisoning.
  5. An Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) should be carried out at the property every five years. A copy of this report should be given to the tenants.
  6. If you live in a house in multiple occupation (HMO) the licensing rules must be met.

Who is responsible for fire damage repairs and cleaning costs?

Your landlord will normally be responsible for carrying out (and paying for) repairs if your home is damaged by fire. If a lot of damage has been done, such repairs may take a considerable amount of time (i.e., a few months) so you may need to move out of the accommodation during this time.

There may be a legal argument if someone else caused the fire. In a recent case we handled, a fire spread from a neighbouring property. There can be all sorts of implications and wrangling between owners and insurers in this scenario.

There may be a police or fire investigation if there was some criminal or deliberate act resulting in the fire.

If the fire was caused by your negligence, the landlord may ask you to pay for the repairs or even deduct money from your tenancy deposit.

Ordinarily, unless the damaged property has been caused by the tenant’s own negligence, the landlord will be responsible for paying for the necessary cleaning services. The landlord may seek a contribution to the cleaning costs from the tenant in the event that the fire has been caused by the tenant’s own negligence.

Who is responsible for paying for damaged or destroyed belongings?

A landlord can decide whether to insure the building itself (there is no obligation upon him/her to do so). If there is insurance in place then the insurer will handle assessment and rebuilding and/or repair.

Your own personal belongings will not usually be covered by that policy of insurance so it is important to take out contents insurance when you take a tenancy to ensure the risk is covered. It is surprising how much “stuff” we own and accumulate – the costs of replacing damaged items are often much more than we expect.

If you have home contents insurance you must notify your insurer as soon as possible if you want to make a claim – delay can result in the insurer refusing to pay.

Do I need to continue to pay rent whilst the property is uninhabitable?

Depending on what is set out in your tenancy agreement, you may need to carry on paying rent for your home, even if you cannot live there temporarily whilst repairs are being carried out. In this scenario, you could negotiate a rent reduction with your landlord. It may also be the case that either you or your landlord will take steps to end the tenancy on the basis that the property is uninhabitable.

The fire damage may have also destroyed the property and the landlord may not even wish to reinstate the property, resulting in the termination of the tenancy.

What happens if I need to move out temporarily?

Staying in a house or flat impacted by fire damage can be dangerous and damaging to your health. Risks remain, even if the fire is extinguished. Fine soot particles generated when fire burns and spreads remain and these contain toxic chemicals. Additionally, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide linger in the home as a result of the smoke which can cause damage to your lungs and your brain.

There is usually no requirement for the landlord to find you alternative housing, but you should ask the landlord for their insurance documentation for the property (if the landlord is responsible then they should have insured the property). If you rent your home from your local council or a housing association, they should provide temporary accommodation if you need to move out.

You should ask your landlord for an estimate of how long the repairs will take (and even ask if they have any intention of carrying out the necessary repairs at all). You should make sure that you get your landlord’s agreement in writing that:

  1. You had no option but to move out due to fire damage; and
  2. You’ll be able to move back after the repairs have been completed.

Your local council may have a duty to provide you with emergency accommodation if you are made homeless as a result of a fire.

Key steps to take after your home is damaged or destroyed by fire

  • Switch off all gas, electricity and water supplies;
  • Open windows and doors to the outside of the home to ventilate the property;
  • Bin any water and food exposed to fire, heat, or smoke;
  • Use a dehumidifier in the areas affected by the fire and smoke to reduce the risk of mould growth (mould is a health hazard in and of itself);
  • Take documentary evidence (including pictures and videos) to record and document how the fire occurred. This may be important later; and
  • Inform your insurance company of the damage (if you are a tenant, and you have insured your belongings).

How we can help

If your property has suffered damage after a fire, or if it has even been destroyed, you need to seek prompt and competent legal advice so that you can protect your position as much as possible.

You will want to ensure you are adequately compensated where possible for damage to your belongings, your time spent seeking alternative accommodation, additional food and/or transport costs – especially if the fire has been caused by the negligence of the landlord or another third party.

If you have suffered physical or psychological damage then compensation may be recoverable. It is important you seek early advice about this.

We are able to advise and assist on all of these points.

This article is intended for general information only, applies to the law at the time of publication, is not specific to the facts of your case and is not intended to be a replacement for legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before relying on any of the information given. © Jonathan Lea Limited 2024.


About George Harrison

George is a full-time trainee solicitor at the Jonathan Lea Network. George recently finished his Master’s of Law (LL.M) at King’s College London, where he specialised in banking law.

The Jonathan Lea Network is an SRA regulated firm that employs solicitors, trainees and paralegals who work from a modern office in Haywards Heath. This close-knit retain team is enhanced by a trusted network of specialist self-employed solicitors who, where relevant, combine seamlessly with the central team.

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