Last Updated on December 1, 2023 by Kelvin Nielsen
Tenants enjoy a smorgasbord of rights under California law, including even after a fire. Continue reading to learn more!
Home fires are relatively common in California than in other states. For instance, in 2020, there were an average of 1,033 home fires per 100,000 units. This was a stark contrast to the national average of just 727 per 100,000 units. Also, according to earth.org, at least a third of some of the worst wildfires in U.S. history occur in California.
With that in mind, what are tenants’ rights after a fire in California? The following are answers to commonly asked questions regarding the topic.
What are tenants’ rights after a fire in California?
California law (CA Civil Code 1940-1954.06) gives tenants certain rights after establishing a lease with the landlord. And specifically, when it comes to fires, you enjoy the following rights.
#1: A right to live in a habitable home.
Of course, a fire can make your home uninhabitable when the damage is significant to the structure, the utilities, or the contents of the home.
The following are a few examples of when a home can become uninhabitable after a fire.
- Damage to the walls, beams, foundation, or any other structural element.
- Damage to the electrical lines, gas, water, or other basic utilities necessary for normal living.
- Damage to the appliances, furniture, clothing, or other contents of the home may make living in the home unpractical.
- Emotional and psychological trauma to you and/or your loved ones. This can make it difficult to continue living in the home even after repairs have been done.
If any of these things has occurred, your home would be uninhabitable and you may have a right to relocate elsewhere. Please note that the landlord isn’t obligated by law to meet your relocation costs.
#2: A right to break the lease agreement without penalty.
Under the California Habitability Law, landlords have a duty to make repairs within 30 days after proper notification. (CA Civ. Code § 1941.2).
So, if your unit remains uninhabitable for more than 30 days, you’ll have a right to break the lease without penalty. In other words, you won’t be liable for any rent remaining under the lease.
#3: A right to be compensated after a fire in California.
Was the fire caused by the landlord’s negligence? If so, then you may have a right to be compensated for the damage caused to your belongings. Landlord negligence can occur in any of the following ways.
- Faulty wiring. Your landlord has a duty to maintain the electrical wiring systems in your home.
- Violations to the building code. Examples of building code violations include blocked fire exits and inadequate smoke detectors.
- Failure to maintain the property, such as not fixing a faulty furnace.
- Allowing overcrowding of the premises. A landlord must not rent out their property to more people than the number of bedrooms. Overcrowding can become a fire hazard as that would make fire exits relatively ineffective.
- Failure to respond to your report of a fire hazard in the home.
If the fire results from any of these actions, you may be entitled to compensation by the landlord. Of course, the exact amount will depend on the value of your belongings and the extent of the damage.
However, if the fire occurs intentionally or due to your negligence, then you may be liable for the cost of the damage. Intentional fires are those that you may start with the intention of causing damage. Whereas, negligent fires are those that result from someone’s carelessness.
What are landlord responsibilities after a fire in California?
California landlords have plenty of responsibilities under state law, including a duty to provide a habitable property to their tenants. A habitable property must be, among other things, safe, clean, sanitary, have proper electrical and plumbing systems, and be free from cockroaches, termites, and other common pests.
When it comes to landlord responsibilities after a fire in California, the landlord must ensure that the home becomes livable again within 30 days. This is especially true if the fire resulted from their negligence.
The following are some of the things they may need to do to get the property livable.
- Make the unit safe to live in.
- Repair any structural damages.
- Replace any damaged appliances.
- Clean and deodorize the unit to remove any smoke or fire damage.
The landlord must do all of these things within 30 days as per California law. If they don’t, you may have some options. Including, withholding further rent payments, repairing the issue yourself and then deducting the costs from rent payments, suing the landlord for damages, or simply breaking the lease without penalty.
What happens if a house you are renting burns down in California?
If the unit you’re renting burns down completely, then you’ll no longer have any obligations under the lease. You can move out immediately without penalty and find a new apartment to live in.
The landlord will also need to return the security deposit, less any allowable deductions, to you within 21 days of moving out.
Can you be evicted for causing a fire in California?
Yes, if you caused the fire either intentionally or negligently. Under California law, landlords have a right to evict a tenant for any of the following reasons.
- Failing to pay rent when it is due.
- Failing to move out after the lease has expired.
- Living on the property without a lease.
- Committing an illegal activity at the property.
- Causing damage exceeding normal wear and tear.
- Causing a nuisance or disturbance.
- Creating a health or safety hazard.
The landlord must then follow the proper eviction process to remove you from the property for causing negligent damage to the property. In other words, the landlord must obtain a court order in order to kick you out. They cannot result to illegal eviction methods like shutting down your utilities, removing your personal belongings, or locking you out.
There you have it – tenants’ rights after a fire in California. Among other things, you may have a right to break the lease without penalty and even compensation if the fire results from the landlord’s negligence.
Disclosure: The content herein isn’t a substitute for advice from a professional attorney. It’s only meant to serve educational purposes. If you have specific questions, kindly seek expert attorney services.
Hi, I’m Kelvin Nielsen, an experienced landlord and accomplished real estate lawyer. My focus is on answering your questions about renting in the hopes of making your life as a renter or a landlord a bit easier.