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Fire Damage in Rented Property, Renting Fire Damaged Property

Whether you’re a landlord or a tenant, a house fire is undoubtedly one of the worst experiences you can ever have in your home. The feeling of hopelessness, despair and perhaps even anger is exasperated when the fire isn’t caused by your own actions, but the neglect of others.

Renting a property has many pros & cons, however, one of the major downsides when compared to owning your home, is the uncertainty of where things stand when something goes drastically wrong.

Meanwhile, as a Landlord, you’re effectively giving your house to someone in good faith that they’ll take care of it and ensure that no damage befalls it. However, once someone breaks that trust it can be hard to trust them or another tenant again, which can sour the entire experience of being a landlord.

In the event that a severe fire occurs in the property that you’re renting, it can be a headache to know where you legally stand regardless of whether you’re a landlord or a tenant. 

In the remainder of this article we will cover what makes a house uninhabitable, outline the process for paying rent when in need of repairs, and reveal who has responsibility to repair the property.

 

What exactly is an Uninhabitable House?

The UK’s Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 outlines that a landlord must ensure that tenants feel “safe, healthy and free from things that could cause serious harm” while within their property. 

Homes that have been neglected, have structural issues or do not have sufficient security (such as doors on locks) are considered to be not fit for human habitation – also known as ‘uninhabitable’. 

As a landlord it’s your responsibility to address serious concerns and issues regarding your property when made aware of the problem. Failing or refusing to address the concerns of your tenant could result in you being summoned to court and paying compensation should you lose the case.

Rent & Refunds

As highlighted above, a damaged property that has been deemed to be not fit for human habitation could result in a tenant receiving compensation for the inconveniences caused if they are successful in a court claim. 

The tenant is still expected to cover their agreed rent until either the issue(s) can be resolved or the tenancy agreement ends (whichever is sooner). In extreme uninhabitable cases such as a fire (that is not the fault of the tenant) the landlord might choose to temporarily suspend rent until the tenant is able to return to the property.

Contrary to popular belief, most landlords are fairly reasonable people, and all but the worst examples of landlords, will negotiate a temporary reduction or suspension of rent in extreme emergencies such as a fire. However, if you’re a tenant it’s important to understand that a rent reduction or suspension while repair work is carried out is not a law and is simply at the discretion of the landlord. 

Failing to pay rent (even during an emergency/natural disaster) could result in you being evicted, regardless of whether the property is liveable or not. Depending on the circumstances, your relationship with your landlord and the amount owed, you could face a court proceeding to claim any rent that you owe to your landlord.

It’s important to note that depending on how the damage was caused, the landlord is able to demand that the cost of repairs be taken from the tenants security deposit. 

In severe cases such as house fires, a landlord can file a claim against you if the cost of repairs for the damages exceeds the deposit and can even evict you. 

It’s important to understand (both as a landlord and tenant) that criminal damage to a rental property is considered a crime under the Criminal Damage Act 1971, and you could face prosecution if found to have deliberately caused damage to the property.

Alternative Accommodation

In instances where a property has been fire damaged that is not the fault of the tenant (e.g. natural disaster or an issue caused by a nearby property) a landlord may consider offering you temporary accommodation if possible.

Typically, as long as a suitable temporary accommodation is available, the landlord can still opt to charge the tenant the full rental price as they are (presumably) within a tenancy agreement. 

However, it’s important to note that there is no law that states that a landlord must offer alternative accommodation in the event of severe damage to the property, unless the fault was caused by landlord’s inaction or failure to repair any existing issue.

The onus to secure alternative accommodation for tenants who would otherwise be made homeless due to a fire in their rented property is the responsibility of the local authority. 

As outlined by the government in their Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, “Certain categories of household, such as pregnant women, families with children, and households that are homeless due to an emergency such as a fire or flood, have priority need if homeless.”

Under the Housing Act 1996 meanwhile, it states that the local authority must consider tenants who have been displaced by a fire or other emergency/disaster as a priority need for accommodation.

Should the fire be caused by a landlord’s negligence or refusal to repair a previously raised issue with the property, the tenant may be able to claim back a portion (if not all) of the costs incurred during their time in alternative accommodation. It is important to note however that a tenant must stay in a comparable level of accommodation during their absence from the property if they wish to legally claim for expenses.

 

Repair Responsibility

One of the main benefits of renting compared to owning is that when issues occur in your home, the responsibility to repair the issue lies with the landlord, letting agent or management firm. 

Whether you personally manage the property or have a letting agent or management company to do so on your behalf, as a landlord you are responsible for the safety of your tenants within your property. 

As covered in the earlier section on ‘What is an Uninhabitable House?’, a home must, at all times, be fit for human habitation. 

It’s important to remember that as a landlord it is your responsibility to maintain the property (overall) and you should regularly inspect and check the property to insure that there is no damage or potential issues that have arisen during the tenancy. Major concerns such as electrical malfunctions, mould and structural damage must be addressed as soon as possible to prevent what could be a simple repair, turning into a lengthy and costly ordeal.

While a property check is strongly recommended (especially for newer tenants) a landlord can only be aware of an issue if they have been informed of it. As a tenant it is solely your responsibility to ensure that any damage or issues with the property are mentioned to the landlord, and that they’re given sufficient time to fix the issue.

Once a landlord or other letting body has been made aware of a problem, they have a duty of care to fix the issue or damages to the home, especially when said issues are in breach of the aforementioned Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act.

However, in some cases such as minor visual damage or wear and tear (eg paint chipping or discoloration) while not explicitly stated, the onus of repair is usually on the tenant themselves. 

Savvy and caring tenants will often resolve or repair minor issues that occur during their tenancy as handing back the property in a worse condition than when you rented it, could result in the loss of some (or all of) your tenancy deposit

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