Oct 13

A commentary on tenant’s perception of their responsibilities.

We had a tenant that placed a lit candle in her window and then left to the store.   She was gone so long that the candle burned to the bottom and  the resulting pool of wax ignited.   Luckily a neighbor witnessed the flame in the window and called the Fire Department, who quickly extinguished the fire.

Fortunately the fire did not damage the unit beyond a foot by two foot soot mark on the paint. However the fire department had to break down the doors to get in to put out the fire.  They also broke the lower unit’s door to assure the fire had not spread. The board up fee charged by the city was $246.  It cost another $318 to replace the 3 doors and touch up the paint above where the candle was.  So basically the tenant’s carelessness  caused about $550 in damages.

This happened on Sunday night.  Tuesday afternoon, not Monday morning as would be logical,  she shows up here telling us about the fire department breaking down her doors due to the fire her candle caused.

Here’s where the story takes a turn to the strange.  Although she admits to carelessly starting the small fire she felt she had no responsibility for the cost incurred, but rather we owed her her deposit back and she should be able to move without owing rent, even though the doors were fixed within a couple of hours of her notifying us.

Huh?  Have we gone so far that tenants have no concept of personal responsibly.

What do the courts say?

While you can charge a tenant under §704.07 for damage caused by their negligence, such as this case,  a recent Wisconsin Court  of Appeals decision says an owner  cannot charge them for fire damage that was caused by something they did other than negligence even if your lease purports to hold them liable.

The case, Maryland Arms Limited Partnership v. Connell, has been chosen for review by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

2 Responses to “I started your house on fire – gimme back my deposit”

  1. teri says:

    So in this case did the tenant have to pay for the fire damage and breaking of the doors from the candle?
    What happen with the homeowners insurance? Did the renters insurance pay for the damages?

    Thank you for your answer. I love this website by the way.

    • Tim Ballering says:

      No, tenants are seldom held responsible for these type of damages.

      In fact there is a WI Supreme Court Case that says tenants are not liable for the unforeseen results that cause fires. Maryland Arms v. Connell

      Our association file an amicus brief in this case.

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