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Home · Property Management · Latest News : Landlord’s Lease Provision Shot Down in Court

landlord helpWhen a Wisconsin tenant went to sleep with her blow dryer plugged into an electrical outlet, she never suspected it would somehow spontaneously combust in the middle of the night. In fact, the accident was so freaky, we profiled the case during our Halloween Freak Week.
But now a court has determined that the landlord is responsible for payment of the $8,000 in fire damage that occurred, due to loopholes in the lease agreement.

The case has been bounced back and forth between courts for awhile, but ultimately the Wisconsin Supreme Court found that under principles of contract law, an ambiguous provision in a lease is to be construed so as to punish the party who wrote it.

Legal experts were disappointed that the Court didn’t specifically decide whether a landlord can shift liability for accidents to the tenant through the lease, even if the accident occurred through no fault of the tenant or the landlord. However, the Supreme Court Justices did imply how they might interpret that question by their reluctance to find the lease could have imposed liability for acts within the tenant’s control regardless of how remote the tenant„¢s act was from the damage.

One Justice added that while landlords are not necessarily prohibited from allocating liability to tenants in the lease, the language must not only be clear, but that allocation must be “otherwise enforceable by law.”

The lease agreement included a provision that the tenant would be liable for any damage to the property, appliances, and equipment that was caused by the tenant’s actions.

The landlord tried to argue that the tenant was liable simply because it was her blow dryer that caused the fire. A lower court found that the tenant would be liable under the terms of the lease, but then an appellate court overturned that decision, holding that where there was no negligence on the part of the tenant, nor on the part of the landlord, the landlord should be responsible for the damage. The Supreme court agreed with that decision.

Not all of the Justices agreed. One dissenter wrote that the tenant could be held responsible for the fire, and felt that the lease provision was clear enough. He went on to say that there is nothing in the law that would prevent a landlord from allocating liability to a tenant for damage, even when the tenant did not act negligently.

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  • Mark

    What suggested language should be used in an agreement. Should negligence be defined?
    Should personally owned / operated equipment that is faulty or operated in a faulty manner be spelled out as negligence?

  • Court was right in ruling that neither tenant or landlord was at fault. Fault was appliance manufacturer. Landlord and/or tenants insurance company was responsible for lost rents and repairs/restoration.

  • Leon K

    is it me or …
    now days, no matter what happens or who’s at fault, the landlords get the blame and landlords end up paying for damages. it seems like THERE IS NO LAW out there, TO PROTECT LANDLORDS!!!

  • STEVE

    ARE THEY SERIOUS? WHY WAS THE DRYER USED?– FOR HEAT. AND WHAT IS ONE RESULT OF HEATING THINGS WITH A RED HOT BLOW DRYER? A FIRE STARTED BY THE TENANT.
    LOOK INTO THE END OF A TURNED ON BLOW DRYER. IT GLOWS RED HOT LIKE A LIGHT BULB FILAMENT.
    THE LANDLORD DIDN”T PUT THE DRYER UNDER THE SHEETS, THE TENANT DID!!!

  • polycarp

    Just another reason to require tenants to carry rental insurance and name the landlord. Not a sure-fire way to deal with liability, but much better than trying to handle it through contract law.

  • Dr. Science

    I’m sue the hair dryer came with a “safety intruction sheet” that our government demands be included with the hair dryer’s user manual that says something about this. ?? were the lawyers out to lunch? duh.

  • MR. BIGSTUFF

    I doubt the blow dryer was faulty. Never heard of another case. Also, the GFCI plug and or the circuit breaker would have tripped. Tenant was probably using the blow dryer inappropriately and caused the fire. (Keeping warm under blankets?)
    I have 2 blow dryers that are always plugged in for years now.
    Tenants blow dryer, tenants fault for leaving it plugged in when not in use. Whether directly or indirectly, accident or not. I was an insurance broker in the past. Most liability claims were always looked at as to whom had “Care, Custody and Control”
    I think that sums it up. Just because a Judge has extensive time in law school, doesnt make him/her completely knowledgeable or competent on every matter in the world. The judges that ruled against the landlord should have had the “CCC” rule suggested to them. thanks for reading!!

  • There should be a special provision in the law concerning the landlord and the tenants and how do the landlords recover the damages done by the tenants. In this case it might turn out that there was not fault of tenant but even when the tenants are advised not to do certain things they do it. Landlords are one important contituient of the economy as they make places available for the people to stay and pay their mortgates and taxes. The law should recognise that they are an industry in themselves.

    If the law really wants to help I would not mind a common lease drafted by the court that is circulated to everybody and we landlords use the same. The provisions should be clearly marked where the landlord is at fault and where the tenant. Also for the recovery of money the landlords should be given the same rights as the other collection agencies and credit bureau should be involved.

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