Tenants Test the Limits of Landlord Liability

At least 21 tenants from a Columbia, Missouri apartment complex are suing the landlord after losing personal possessions in a fire.

Typically, renters insurance is the only source of recovery for a tenant’s personal property after a fire. A landlord’s insurance will pay for damage to the building, but not to a tenant’s property.

However, there is a narrow exception. If a tenant can prove that the fire was the landlord’s fault, then a tenant may be able to claim damages under negligence theories.

That’s what the tenants here are hoping to do. According to news reports following the story, tenants are alleging that the landlord is at fault because it violated the fire code.

The landlord’s violation appears to be related to whether it had properly functioning pull-down fire alarms. The landlord has been ordered to install the alarms. While this may have delayed some tenants from recovering any possessions that withstood the fire, the cause of the blaze is believed to be a faulty light fixture, according to the report.

To win the claim for negligence, the tenants will need to show that the losses were a predictable result of the landlord’s actions.

Often, landlords and property managers will require tenants to carry renters insurance to cover lost possessions. That practice may reduce the likelihood of tenant lawsuits, which can prove costly even if the landlord prevails.

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