July 17, 2018
After a Rental Property Fire: What to Do Next
If you scan the local news headlines, it’s not unusual to see “Apartment Fire Displaces Family” or “Fire Crews Battle Apartment Blaze.” A rental property fire can be one of the most devastating things to happen to a landlord, but sadly, it’s all too common. In fact, most of the smaller fires don’t even make the evening news.
Often, fires are caused by cooking. However, it might be due to lint in the dryer vent, or a lit cigarette or unattended candle, and sometimes it can even be deliberate act by an arsonist set in the garage or hallway. In Canada, most fires occur during the colder months of the year.
It can be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day busyness of property management, with responding to tenant queries, showing vacant units and overseeing the running of the business. But when you get the call that a fire truck has just rolled up to one of your buildings it can be a shock.
Hopefully, it will never happen to you, but if it does, here’s a guide to help you sort out what to do after a property rental fire.
Immediately After the Rental Property Fire
Speak to the tenant to find out about their health and wellbeing, as well as to get an understanding of how and where the fire started. Sometimes, if they are at fault, they might try to cover up the truth. However, your local fire department and the fire inspector will also be investigating the root cause of the fire.
Depending on the extent of the rental property fire, the tenant may not be able to stay in their home. The tenant must also contact their insurance company to arrange temporary housing. In the event they do not have insurance, you can direct them to services like the Canadian Red Cross or the Salvation Army and various community services. Make sure you have a list of support organizations on hand, ideally accessible in your tenant portal.
Contact your insurance company immediately to report the fire. You need to get the claim in as soon as possible. Everyone wants to get the repair and restoration process done as quickly as possible.
Get a list of recommended restoration companies or fire specialist contractors from your insurance company and start calling immediately to set up appointments in the days ahead.
Ask the fire officer or incident inspector when you can access the premises. These fire professionals will be determining the cause and origin of the fire, as well as the structural integrity of the premises. Often, they will be able to help the tenant recover important valuables they need right away. Never enter the unit or building until the officials have said it is safe to go inside.
The key thing is to communicate and coordinate with all parties, and document the damage and all interactions with the tenant, the insurance company and restoration vendors.
In the Days Following the Fire
Do a thorough walk-through and assess the damage. Take photos, or shoot a video. You will need to keep a written inventory of all interior structural elements damaged in the unit, like countertops or kitchen islands. Also note any damaged exterior structures like balconies, sheds or decks. Take photos and write down the brand name and model of damaged appliances, like the stove, dishwasher or fridge. Do not interfere with the premises, including trying to clean it up by removing debris until you have documented everything and spoken to the insurance company and had the restoration firm look at your property. Do not attempt to turn on the utilities until the fire department has given the all-clear.
Depending on the extent of the damage of the rental property fire, you will have to secure the premises to prevent both trespassing and any potential accidents. The insurance adjuster will be able to help with this. This could mean security locks on doors, or even boarding them up along with the windows. If it is a house, duplex or triplex, you may have to have a temporary security fence installed. After an inspection, get a city inspection and attain a permit in order to begin repairs.
Review any lease cancellation clauses with your tenant. In most cases, a tenant must keep paying rent or there may be a rent abatement. The tenancy agreement may be frustrated if the rental unit is uninhabitable. Check your provincial laws and rental boards.
Work with the fire inspector and insurance company to determine liability. The landlord’s insurance is responsible for repair of structural damage and getting the unit(s) back to an inhabitable condition. If the tenant caused the fire, your insurance company may pursue the tenant’s insurance company. The tenant’s insurance will cover the replacement of items like furniture, clothing and other personal belongings.
Oversee work done by fire restoration professionals and contractors to get the rental unit back to its pre-loss condition. The sooner it’s habitable again, the happier for everyone. Use your maintenance portal to manage your vendors.
How Property Vista Helps
The best way to manage vendors and keep a digital record of tenant interactions is to use property management portal. It can help you to share information amongst your team, keep track of contractors and communicate with tenants. We have the solutions you need. To learn more, get started here.