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Can You Sue Your Landlord for an Electrical Fire?

Electrical fires happen when least expected and are often the result of wiring issues that have been neglected by the landlord or property owner. If you are the victim of an apartment or house fire suspected of being electrical in origin, it's crucial you speak with a skilled attorney as soon as possible. The loss of your possessions, home, and even your loved one is not something you should bear the cost of alone. In addition, if you were injured, ongoing care and treatment for your burns could last a lifetime.

The reality is that if your landlord was negligent in resolving a known issue that could lead to this type of fire or didn't adequately address the problem that led to it, they are liable. So, yes, you can sue and shouldn't be afraid to explore your legal options and rights to compensation. However, even if you have a renter's insurance policy, this doesn't absolve the owner from liability. Plus, your coverage may not cover the full scope of your damages.

Leading Causes of Electrical Fires

Just the idea of an electrical fire tearing through your rented apartment or home is a terrifying thought, especially if you live in a multi-unit building. A faulty power outlet on one side of the building could potentially start a blaze that engulfs the entire structure, affecting all the tenants living there. 

Unfortunately, there are many reasons why electrical fires start, including many that are preventable:

  • Faulty wiring
  • Old or faulty appliances
  • Lighting fixtures
  • Ungrounded electrical plugs
  • Damaged electrical plugs
  • Rodents and pests 
  • Malfunctioning light switches

As you can see, regular inspection and repairs could easily detect these issues and minimize the risk of these events altogether. Unfortunately, many property management companies and their landlords don't invest the proper resources to carry out updates out of greed. This negligent attitude frequently leads to preventable damages to the life and property of their tenants.

The Dangers of Faulty Wiring

The U.S. Fire Administration reported that faulty wiring alone accounted for nearly 7% of all known residential fires in 2019. This staggering statistic highlights the tragic consequences of a mostly preventable danger that tenants face every year. 

But, what exactly leads to wiring in your home or apartment complex becoming faulty in the first place?

Rodents

Rats and mice chew on more than your dog's kibble you have stored in your pantry. Millions of dollars in damage are caused by ats, and mice start chewing on electrical wires every year. In fact, they are often the culprits behind undetermined fires in the nation! If you live in a building with rampant rodent issues, you can be sure they're damaging the complex wiring running behind your walls. This is frustrating for landlords because the damage could be anywhere and requires extensive investigation and pest control to determine if any electrical fire risk exists. 

Natural Deterioration of the Building and Wiring

Another issue that often leads to wiring becoming faulty and causing an electrical fire is the age of the building and the power system itself. This is especially true for structures that are twenty years or older. Construction materials have greatly improved, but time, exposure to the elements, and pests deteriorate your home eventually. The property owner must keep your residence up-to-date structurally and electrically.

Electrical Overloads

The rental market is full of older homes that have older electrical systems installed. When an owner installs new appliances, lighting, and power outlets during renovations, they may fail to consider if the original network can support more modern electrical products. Failing to assess this can lead to burnt-out wiring in the walls and breaker box, increasing fire risk.

Poor Electrical Installation

One of the biggest costs that landlords face is repairs. Saving money is crucial to ensure they remain profitable and may lead them to cut corners on the quality of workmanship they hire to fix electrical issues. Some landlords will even take a do-it-yourself approach and install new ceiling fans or breakers on their own, despite not having the professional knowledge to ensure it's done correctly and safely. This type of negligence can lead to expensive electrical fires.

Roaches 

When you think these pests couldn't be worse, roaches also can contribute to faulty wiring issues in your home. When hunting for food, these bugs can be attracted to the insulation that coats building wiring, thus exposing parts of the wires to the surrounding wood and drywall.

These are just a few of many situations that can lead to wiring in your home becoming faulty. And, it's crucial that you report these issues right away if you are aware and your property manager makes the necessary repairs promptly. If they fail to act, you can sue your landlord for the electrical fire caused.

Knowing When Your Home's Wiring Is Outdated and Dangerous 

Age is a regular contributor to electric fires that occur on rental properties. While not all older systems are hazardous, some common red flags are that the electrical system is outdated and dangerous. For example, suppose you lost your home, possessions and/or were injured in a blaze started by an electrical cause. In that case, your attorney will consider the following characteristics to determine if the age of the wiring system played a role:

Old or Worn Out Power Outlets

A tell-tale sign of dangerous electrical conditions in your home can be seen on the face of electric sockets. If it can't grip a cord plug, shows burn marks, or shows discoloration around the socket face, this presents a contact danger. In addition, if a current rests in front of it, it's possible a fire could break out from touching it.

If the home was built decades ago, it's also possible that your electric outlets aren't up-to-date. Most building codes require that sockets be GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter). This means that should there be a ground-fault, it will nearly instantly shut off the flow of power to that socket, helping to prevent an electrical incident. Using outlets that don't meet this standard could mean your landlord is liable for the damages you suffered if causing an electrical fire.

Ungrounded Wiring

Grounded wiring systems protect your appliances and other sensitive electronics from unexpected power surges. Unfortunately, if you're renting an older home built during or before the 1960s, you may have an ungrounded system. This dangerous situation could lead to any of the following over time:

Electric shock when coming into contact with light switches
Overheating of your power outlets
Light flickering
Fuses are regularly being tripped
Issues with power surges
Light switches and power outlets that can catch fire or melt

Aluminum Wiring

Another well-known cause of electrical fires is aluminum wiring. Back in the 1950s through part of the 1970s, this wiring was used in residential and commercial structures. Because of how easily this type of wiring system can overheat, there is a severe danger of these electrical systems melting and catching fire. While it's not mandatory for this type of wire to be replaced, your landlord has a duty to regularly inspect it and ensure this known fire hazard doesn't pose a danger to the safety of their tenants.

Negligent Landlords Share in Electrical Fire Liability

When an individual or company acts recklessly without any regard for the consequences, this is considered negligence. For example, in electrical fires, landlords who fail to take action to fix a known risk, or do so inadequately, are considered negligent under the law. This means that tenants who suffered damages can bring a personal injury suit to get compensated for their losses.

To better understand how they are partially or wholly responsible for your losses after an electrical fire, below are the key elements of a landlord negligence case:

Duty

Whether your home is owned by an individual landlord or a property management company, they have a legal duty to make the property you live in habitable and livable.

Breach of Duty

To file a lawsuit against your landlord for an electrical file, you will need to prove they breached their required duty. Your attorney will achieve this by using your rental contract provisions. 

For example, let's say you have had an issue with a faulty wall outlet not working correctly and request it be fixed. If they fail to do this, a fire could later start because of the outlet you asked to be repaired. They are seen as failing to be dutiful in their legal obligation to keep your rented property safe and habitable. 

Breach Caused Your Damages

This element requires you to show that their lack of action in addressing a known hazard created a situation leading to your being harmed. 

Damages

Here, you will need to prove the damages caused by the situation your landlord caused because they breached their legal duty to keep your home safe and livable. If successful, you could receive compensation for economic, non-economic, and possibly punitive damages. 

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