It’s the call every landlord dreads: there’s been a fire at a property you own. Thankfully, your tenants are OK but you still expect a few sleepless nights wondering: what do I do next?
Contact your insurance company
One of the first things you should do when hearing of a fire at a property you own is to contact your insurance company. Insurers will deal with fire, flood and other disasters more often than you do and may be able to offer helpful advice. They may also have processes in place to help you and your tenants through this difficult time – for example, some insurers will help find your tenants a new place to stay.
Can my tenants move back in while I do repairs?
Whether you own a commercial property or a house, your tenants will almost certainly want to carry on as normal as quickly as possible. However, as the property owner, you are responsible for the fabric of the building, which may need major repairs. It’s essential that you determine that the property is safe before you allow your tenants to return. At a minimum, this will mean: ensuring that all structural elements affected have been checked and are safe; ensuring that any gas, electric, HVAC or other systems affected have been certified for use; cleaning the property to remove any potentially hazardous materials. Your tenants must not be allowed back in until the property is safe.
Can I ask my tenants to pay for repairs?
It depends on the cause of the fire. If the fire was due to the tenant’s negligence, then you may be able to charge them for the cost of repairs. If the fire was due to (or exacerbated by) your negligence, then you may have to pay for damage to their property, loss of earnings, etc. However, if the fire is ruled an accident, then you will each be responsible for your own property: your tenants are responsible for the contents, i.e. their property, which typically includes things like tables and chairs, clothing and books. They are not responsible for nor should they be expected to contribute to repairs to your property, which includes things like wallpaper, flooring, electrical wiring and so on.
Do my tenants need to continue paying rent?
Your tenants should continue paying rent while the property is being repaired. However, you can only expect them to pay the full rent if they have full use of the property. Expect to reduce the amount of rent they pay in proportion to the amount of the property that is available – for example, if your property is an office, and half the space is available, expect to halve the rent. If the tenant cannot access the property or it is unusable, do not expect them to pay rent. If the tenant has to find alternative accommodation, this will often be recoverable from you, the landlord.