Tenant's die in fire - Property owner liable

October 31, 2017
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Would You Be Liable For Tenant's Death From a Fire?

A True Story…

I had a prospective client call me about insurance for his various apartment rental locations, he owned over 10 locations ranging from single family homes to 5 unit buildings. When I got to the question about claims in the past 5 years he said that he had never had a claim until recently and it was a sizable loss!

Here is briefly what occurred. He had a 4 unit building and the tenant in one of the units had messed around with a gas laundry dryer and the building caught on fire. The building was a total loss, $250,000 was paid by the insurance company. Unfortunately, 3 people died in the fire and their families filed a lawsuit against the landlord claiming that there weren’t functioning smoke detectors. The insurance company is likely paying the full $1,000,000 liability limit since the property owner couldn’t provide any evidence that he has functioning smoke detectors. To add insult to injury the owner could be on the hook for any award that goes in excess of his $1,000,000 liability limit.

IF YOU HAVE A RENTAL PROPERTY WITH BATTERY OPERATED SMOKE DETECTORS YOU NEED TO DO THIS!!

At least once a year replace all the smoke detector batteries in the building and have a written log sheet where you enter the date, location address, unit number and the number of smoke detector batteries that were replaced in each unit. Ideally, keep a copy of the associated receipt for the battery purchase. If you have hardwired detectors or the 10 year lithium detectors you keep the same type of documentation indicating that those were tested. If you are using the 10 year lithium detectors make sure that you write the purchase date on the non-visible side and be sure to check the dates and replace the 10 year detectors when they no longer function or when they are 9 years old, whichever occurs first.

Protect Yourself and Your Tenants

As noted above I suggest doing things that will help protect your tenants and replacing batteries once a year is one of those things you can do. I also highly suggest an excess liability policy to protect your assets against unfortunate events like the one above. An additional one million dollars of liability protection can be as cheap as $5 per unit per year and a 5 million excess policy for as little as $15 per unit per year.

Please feel free to call Definitive Insurance Solutions if you have any questions or would like to review your insurance coverage, 1-717-537-1104.

Joe Hershey, CPCU, CIC