What happens to a tenant if their is a fire in their unit?

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What happens to a tenant if their is a fire in their unit?

My apartment caught on fire. I had just moved in 3 months before and had not yet purchased renters’ insurance. The fire Marshall declared the stove was left on. My landlord/slumlord’s insurance came and took pictures and the landlord told us that we would be remodeling it ourselves. So far he has purchased dry wall and that’s all my spouse has been remodeling this apartment by himself for the past month and the landlord has not helped or hired anyone professional to help hang insulation/drywall/ redo the floors etc. We have been doing it all ourselves and he has not once tried to help us get the ball rolling he also did not even place us in a different home so we are also homeless living off friends trying to repair our home while the Landlord barely ever makes an effort to make contact with us or get us sheltered. Is this legal?

Asked on July 2, 2016 under Real Estate Law, Indiana

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

What you describe could be legal IF 1) the unit, despite the fire, is safely habitable (i.e. is the damage, even if extensive/severe, mostly cosmetic, so that it is still safe to live there?) and 2) you agreed to this arrangment. If a unit is livable, a tenant and landlord can agree to pretty much anything they want about rent, possession, who pays for repairs, etc.
If the premises is not habitable, you can't live there--which does not mean that the landlord necessarily has to put you elsewhere. Here are some legal principles for you to apply to your specific situation:
1) If the premises is rendered uninhabitable, then--
a) If the landlord caused the fire, he must rehouse them in equivalent space or pay their rental elsewhere; the landlord may also have to pay for their lost/destroyed/damaged personal property.
b) If neither the landlord nor the tenant caused the fire, then either the landlord rehouses them or the lease is terminated (over) with no penalty to either side--you can find new accommodations and don't have to pay rent. (If the landlord does rehouse you in equivalent space, you keep paying rent.) But the landlord does not have to rehouse, etc. you when not at fault.
c) If the tenant--you--caused the fire, which may the be the case if the fire marshall's finding was the fire occured becasue "the stove was left on," then the landlord does not have to rehouse you AND you still have to pay rent (a party's own wrongful act does not let them out of a contract, and a lease is a contract) AND  you have to pay the cost to repair/remodel the unit (if you damage another's property, you are responsible for the resulting costs/losses).


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