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Landlord imprisoned over negligence. Apartment fire, victim injured

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  • Landlord imprisoned over negligence. Apartment fire, victim injured

    Lawyers please hold on to your hats. I am just getting started as the victim has not been released from the hospital yet.

    The victim is my sibling. The victim was very recently injured (hospitalized for the past 2 weeks) in an apartment fire.
    There was no heat in the apartment. The cause of the fire was an electric heater which was being used to heat the victim’s apartment. The victim was lucky to get out alive….. The victim suffered upper respiratory damage for breathing in hot gas/fumes/smoke and suffered burns to her arm.

    Local police and fire department are prosecuting the landlord who is also the building owner for code violations. The landlord is in jail now over this incident. The landlord had a history of repeated violations with the township and the landlord was specifically summoned regarding the lack heat in the building months prior.

    Beyond the victim’s immediate needs, health, and long term prognosis, my immediate concern is that the apartment building is up for sale. My understanding is that the building may have been in foreclosure and the landlord may have been in bankruptcy.

    The apartment and all its contents were destroyed. So far, I know there is insurance on the property because there was a claims adjuster on the scene assessing the fire damage. A team of construction workers had already started repair of the building in general, and specifically fixing the destroyed apartment.

    I should be receiving a copy of the police report in the next few days.

    Beyond the `get a lawyer` response, I am asking for some advice on how best to proceed.

    Here is what I am doing and have done so far.

    I found this forum to get informed and educated, any other forums to recommend?

    I obtained the NOLO book “How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim” to get educated. Any other good books?

    My future actions:

    Get police report. Analyze facts
    Find out disposition of building, was the mortgage in foreclosure?
    Find out if landlord had filed for bankruptcy as suggested.
    Find out long term health prognosis of this type of fire injury

    What additional actions, steps should I be taking now?

    Your advice and support is greatly appreciated.

  • #2
    Re: Landlord imprisoned over negligence. Apartment fire, victim injured

    While we don't know the events in your case, I can state the laws for other necessary repairs. Allow me to play devil's advocate and show you the LL's attorney's position. (So you will see what you will be up against. Don't take offense - you need to know what you will face.)

    The LL is responsible for not having heat in the unit. That much is certain. But did he plug in the faulty electric heater that caused this fire? Was this heater actually faulty, or did the tenant use it in an inappropriate manner -too close to drapes, furnishings, etc? (If the heater was used in an inappropriate manner, this fire was the tenant's fault.) Did the tenant use an UL approved heater -one that shuts off immediately if it overheats or is tipped over? Did the LL provide this heater? (Unless the LL provided the faulty heater, the fire would have been caused by the victim's actions by using a heater like this.) Additionally, when necessary repairs are needed, laws say the tenant has legal remedies available to him in the event of such repairs, and the tenant must avail himself of these remedies.

    When no heat is in a unit, or in the event of any other necessary repair, the law makes it clear the steps that must be taken in most states. First, the tenant contacts the LL to make him aware of the situation and to request repairs. This should be done by phone if an emergency (like no heat) but also backed up in writing to prove the request was made. Was this done? If not, the notice from the building inspector would have been the required written notice.

    The LL then has a set number of days to repair. Obviously, the LL did not make repairs in that time. That kicks in the next legal step, tenant remedies. Most states, but not all, have repair and deduct. The tenant may have the problem repaired himself after the time period above is exhausted, and deduct the amount of the repair from the rent. You'd have to list your state to see if this remedy was available. (If it was, and the tenant did not take it, the LL's attorney will ask why not? That would have corrected the entire problem and this event would never have happened. The situation would have been corrected since the heat would have been repaired at the LL's cost. That would have fixed the problem. This event would not have occurred if the tenant had used his legal remedies.)

    When repair and deduct is not available, then rent withholding or lease termination is. The tenant may deposit rent with the clerk of court to force the LL to make repairs. The LL cannot evict or access the rent until the repair is made. In the event the repair is a habitability issue, like this one, the tenant may also terminate the lease once the above action has been taken. Did the tenant do these things (rent withhold)? The tenant did not terminate the lease or move out of the affected unit when it was no longer habitable. (Again, the LL's attorney will ask why these steps were not taken? Had the tenant terminated, this event would not have occurred.)

    If the LL provided a faulty heater to the tenant and it caused a fire, the entire responsibility for this would lie with the LL. If however, the tenant used an appropriate heater in an unsafe manner, or took none of the legal remedies available to him, or used a faulty heater of his own causing this fire, some of the responsibility for this would lie with the tenant. That will lessen the amount of any award from a court. It may even negate any award since the tenant would be the person who caused this event (depending on the state and jury).

    You definitely need an attorney. Actually, your sibling needs an attorney. You were not a party to this action, were not on the lease, and cannot sue anyone over this. You didn't live there, were not injured, and were not obligated under the legal contract. You have no vested interest in this case and cannot be a party to any lawsuit. Only your sibling can sue.

    The insurance on the property by the LL covers only the building and the LL's property inside the building (appliances, HVAC, etc.). Tenants must carry their own rental policies to cover their own possessions. If the tenant did not have this insurance, their possessions are not covered and will not be replaced. This is the tenant's responsibility.

    I hope this has helped so your sibling can build his/her case appropriately. Good luck and keep us informed.


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