Rental House Fire - Tenant Sueing

9 Replies

Hello! Down here in Texas during the freak weather my rental property lost power for a day. The tenant, an elderly woman, lit a fire in the fireplace (14 hours) and it started a fire in the house burning all surrounding areas. The tenant was not injured thankfully. Fire Marshall says the fire started because of “old mortar” in the firebox. I had no prior knowledge that anything was wrong w the fireplace. I purchased the property a couple years ago and the inspection report did not report any faults in the fireplace.

Tenants daughter (POA) has been a bully from beginning. She has contacted my insurance and has demanded they cover liability (for what idk since no one got hurt and her mother has renters insurance), she is now requesting of me a copy of my insurance adjusters report. I spoke w her after fire and communicated that I would like to terminate the lease and give back sec. deposit since repairs will take a while. Section 92.

I’m 99% sure she is going to sue me - for what I’m not sure - but I saw on her fb that she is searching for a Liability Attorney for the house fire. 

This is my first rental property (4 months in ha!). Wondering if anyone has any guidance - do I have anything to worry about other than how much excedrin I will need to buy to deal with this headache? 

Does she have a right to my Adjuster’s report? Why wouldn’t her insurance request the report from my insurance directly if they needed it...? 

1) Contact your insurance company ASAP to alert them that there was an incident and may be a claim.

2) Shut up. No discussing the incident with the tenant or her POA daughter. Nothing. If she mentions lawsuit, feel free to say something like "Due to the minor damage, I probably won't be suing your mother for her lighting a fire and her subsequent negligence in failing to watch over it." Everyone likes to threaten lawsuit, but something like this can get them thinking what happens if the court decides I'm liable... I've had incidents disappear when saying something like this.

3) Wait for the lawsuit and let your insurance company handle 100% of everything. She has a right to NOTHING until your attorney decides they want to turn it over or a judge requires it. 

Then after its settled board/brick up the fireplace. Our Insurance Carriers here will not provide a policy if any old fireplaces are in use. We did have a fire once when the fire caused the nails in the floor joists to heat up so much it caused a fire below the hearth. 

Stop talking to the daughter. She is not a party to the lease and has no business communicating with you about this.

Stop talking to the renter about this. She may be threatening to sue but 99% of the time it's just a threat and they will never follow through.

At the same time, talk to your insurance company. If the tenant does decide to sue, do not respond! Forward the information to your insurer and let them handle it. Trying to communicate or negotiate with the tenant is more likely to hurt then help.

Thank you All!

Follow up question, I went ahead and terminated the lease since the house was not livable and repairs could not be done while tenant property was in the house. Ive read in TX rental code that in some scenarios a landlord cannot rent that house out again for 6 months. Does anyone know when a house falls under this requirement? 

Not sure how that works in TX but my lease states that if the home is not habitable either party can terminate the lease, I have to assume a fire would qualify.  I also tell them I have no property insurance outside of the structure itself and they have to purchase renters insurance to cover their property but under no circumstance am I responsible for your belongings.  I agree stop talking to both parties and direct them to your adjustor.  This is especially true if a lawyer contacts you as they tend to like twisting your words.  If they choose to sue that's what insurance is for let them handle it and just follow their instructions.  This is your first house fire but the insurance company deals with it all the time, they have a process just don't get in the way of it.  

@Katerina Villamil not familiar with the section of code you are talking about.  If you can, please cite the statute.

I'm reading lots of bad and a little good info here, so here's my take: Inform the adjuster that T may or may not sue and if so, you will be making a claim.  Hopefully the carrier will pick up the defense bill.

Smoke/fire damage can take longer to fix because you have to do more to cure, so terminating the lease is probably the safe route, even without danger of suit.  Bricking over the fireplace is, quite frankly, stupid.  Lots of carriers will cover it in Texas.  If you have a fireplace, just have it cleaned/inspected once a year.  Try to use it 1x/yr just to keep it in good order.

OK.  Most LL's don't work under that statute if they can help it.  92.055 requires notice sent to the local health authority and T, but can only take possession if there's a provision in the lease that allows.  Overall, not a well crafted section of the code.  Mostly only comes into play when there's significant damage and T won't let LL in to make repairs.  Local health authority can shut the unit down and force the T out.