Just another day in the office for a busy property manager. Written by Hannah from the Rentancy Team.
Our Property Management team has recently had to deal with a fire. We hope this guide gives you some useful information, if ever you have to directly deal with the consequences of a fire in a rented property.
What happens if a tenant has a house fire?
Check your tenants
The first thing to do is ensure your tenants are ok. No matter the severity or fault of the fire, it is highly likely the tenant(s) will be shaken up. So it is essential to deal with the situation using a sympathetic ear.
Informing your landlord
Informing your landlord of the fire is probably going to be one of the hardest conversations you will have to take. Breaking this news to your landlord is going to be difficult, but necessary to do so immediately.
Once you have informed your landlord, they will hopefully have buildings insurance and will need to notify them straight away of the situation. They can also give the insurance company permission to speak with you on their behalf, so you can deal with them directly.
Reviewing the damage
We would strongly suggest a trip to the property, to review and take photos of the damage (if safe to do so).
A call to the fire department to obtain a fire assessment report would also be required for insurance purposes. This will outline the cause of the fire. Some fire departments do charge for this report, so please check this with your local fire department.
There is no rule, act of Parliament, or case law that states a landlord has to provide or arrange alternative accommodation for a tenant. This is even the case if the landlord was at fault and somehow caused the fire. However, your local authority does have a duty.
A person is considered homeless if they have no accommodation available to occupy (section 175 Housing Act 1996), and a person is in priority need of accommodation if a person is homeless due to an emergency such as flood or fire (Section 189 housing act 1996).
If the local authority has reason to believe a person is homeless and in priority need of accommodation, it is their temporary duty to accommodate.
In this case, please advise your tenant to speak with their local authority as a matter of urgency to arrange this temporary accommodation.
Does the landlord have to pay the cost of any alternative accommodation?
This will depend on whether the landlord is in breach of repairing obligations or not, and whether the fire was the landlord's fault.
If, for example, the fire was started due to an electrical fault, which the landlord was unaware of and had not received any notice of the defect, then no, the landlord is not liable for any damages to the tenant and not responsible for contributing to the alternative accommodation.
Had the landlord been made aware of a defect, by receiving a notice etc, and did not act upon this, the cost would generally be recovered from the landlord.
There are however no strict rules as to when alternative accommodation is required – whether it was reasonable or necessary to have alternative accommodation is down to each individual case.
Does the tenant still need to pay rent?
The quick answer is yes. The tenant remains bound to pay rent, as per the tenancy agreement and there is no exception in case of fire. However do always check the tenancy agreement, in case there is a clause that states otherwise!
However, all of the above is just what should and shouldn’t be done under the law. If your landlord decides to pay for the alternative accommodation and not charge rent, then, of course, this is down to the individual landlord. I would always however suggest they check with their insurance company first as to what they will and won’t cover in terms of loss of rent etc.
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