If one rents a retail property and a fire occurs who is liable for damages the tenant or the property owner?

Answer 1, Fire Liability

It depends on whose fault it was. If the tenant started the fire via a cigarette, stove burner, candle left lit, or any other cause by the tenant, then the tenant is liable for all damages. If the fire is caused by the structural failure (i.e. electrical problem, gas leak) then the landlord is responsible for the damages. However, the landlord is not responsible for belongings that were inside. Renters insurance would take care of that and the insurance carrier would pay out such a claim. If the fire is caused by someone other than the tenant or landlord, then the landlord is responsible as well. However, property insurance will cover a landlord in most cases should the landlord not be found liable for the loss. A fire investigation will reveal what happened in the case of any fire.

Answer 2, Additional Input

I am forced to respectfully disagree with part of answer 1, which otherwise is very good.

In order to support my position, allow me to provide some of my qualifications. Before retirement, I spent two years as a Firefighter, and 25 years as an Investigator/Expert Witness/Consultant in the Origin and Cause of Fire/Arson/Explosion. I have worked WITH [both for and against] MOST of the major insurance carriers in the country.

Answer 1's statement--"If the fire is caused by the structural failue (i.e. electrical problem, gas leak) then the landlord is responsible for the damages."

This is not always true. Even though his liability insurance carrier MAY CHOOSE to accept liability AND PAY THE TENANT, the landlord is not actually liable UNLESS he was NEGLIGENT, AND DETERMINED SO IN A COURT OF LAW.

If the cause of the fire is something of which he was aware, or if it can be proved in court he should have been aware, then he COULD be found NEGLIGENT. If the cause was something he could not have forseen or prevented, then the chances are that a jury would find in his favor, not negligent, and not liable for tenant's damage.

The second statement with which I have to disagree is--"If the fire is caused by someone other than the tenant or landlord, then the landlord is responsible as well." This is unbelievable.

I will give a couple, of possibly hundreds, of examples of cases in which no jury on Earth would hold the landlord responsible and liable.

First, is an example which is not "conjured up," as I worked many such cases over the years, and it continues to occur.

Consider that a criminal parolee [already a two-time loser in a "three-strike" state] breaks into the business during the night. He "digs" through all the drawers, cabinets, cash register, etc. looking for the money most business keep there overnight. When it is time to leave, he realizes that he has left his fingerprints everywhere, and it would be impossible to "wipe" the entire place down.

A common solution many criminals use is to set the place on fire, thinking and hoping that his fingerprints will be destroyed. I just cannot believe that you, or any jury, would have the gall to hold the landlord responsible and liable.

Another type of case which I have seen more than once is that of a vehicle driver, having lost control, crashing into the building. Then, either the vehicle caught fire, or something inside the building caught fire. There is NO WAY the landlord should be determined to be either responsible or liable.

IF ANYONE DISAGREES WITH MY ANALYSIS, please add your analysis, WITH SUPPORTING examples, to this answer. I WILL continue to monitor this question/answer because I have to know how a landlord can be held responsible and liable for a third party's actions.

Could you answer me This?

I am currently leasing a commercial building (currently at 3 years out of 7) The front office has just gone up in flames. The fire department was able to contain fire and the building was deemed safe to work in. it has now been 5 days and the landlord has come by to take pictures and notes of damage but has only said two words since the incident "good luck." now...here is my dilemma...i don't have renters insurance or General Liability. My business has suffered tremendously over the past year. i went from earning 200k a year for the past 10 years to living pay check to pay check. so insurance is no longer something i can afford. fire department has stated that "a unattended heater was the cause of fire on the west side of the office..." it is not a heater they see but a water cooler with hot and cold option.

I've had a electrician come by and take a look at the damages and without saying anything asked him to search for what he would believe is the cause. He also concluded it came from the water cooler but asked for me to purchase another similar cooler to determine if the cooler had a faulty surge protector. I've been unable to find the same model in water cooler and have now run out of ideas on what to do.

what would you suggest for me to do next? should i get another professional opinion? since i don't have insurance, should i offer to pay his liability deductible or pay out of pocket? if i was to seek another professional opinion on cause of fire, from who? is there such a dedicated profession? and if so, under what listing? this is my first incident and i feel so lost. Any help or direction would be greatly appreciated. thank you in advance.


I'm very sorry for your loss. It appears though (from your description) that you are liable for the damages. It would probably be a waste of time and money getting a third opinion since 2 have already agreed on the cause. I would suggest that you find a reasonable and reputable contractor to begin the repairs. If you can expedite repair of the damages, the landlord may opt not to sue you.