What to Do After a Fire
Thanks in part to stricter building codes, more sensitive alarms, and less people smoking and other fire hazards, fires in homes aren’t as common as they were years ago when we still cooked over an open fire. But that doesn’t mean a fire isn’t possible. All you have to do is look at the Grenfell Tower tragedy in London to know when it happens, it can be tragic.
The news may not mention rental house fires very often, but it’s estimated that 100,000 occur every year. That’s a lot of damage, a lot of money, and a lot of tenants out of a home, at least temporarily. Prevention is the best option, but if a fire every occurs in your rental property, it’s good to know what to do next.
Talk to Your Tenants
As soon as you’re on the scene, and the fire department has been called, check in with your tenants. Make sure they’re okay. Try to find out what happened. Don’t accuse anyone of anything. While the fire could have been caused by a lease violation, like smoking, it’s more important to know what caused it - even if they’re reluctant to admit it.
Before you leave your tenants, make sure they have a place to stay for the evening and that they’ve been put in contact with the Red Cross or any other agency who can help. Later, you may need to help them relocate - and your insurance may pay for those costs, depending on your policy. But right now, make sure they’re okay and find out what happened.
Cooperate With Any Investigation
You might want to do your own investigation, and talking to your tenants is part of that. The fire department will likely run their own. Cooperate with them fully, and tell your renters to do the same. You might feel impatient to know what happened, but they’re the professionals. If you doubt that your tenants are telling the truth, the official investigation will let you know soon enough.
Provide any information requested by investigators. Return calls as soon as possible. Encourage your tenants to tell the truth even if they’re afraid of the consequences. It’s important to get to the bottom of the cause. Sometimes a renter might be afraid they were the reason, and it was actually faulty wiring or some other reason.
Call Your Insurance Company
As soon as you can after the fire, contact your insurance company. The claims process probably won’t be quick, and you want them to get started sooner rather than later. Provide all the details you can and make sure to follow up with any requests as soon as possible. As with the investigation, be patient with the claims process.
Ask about fire restoration options and what companies are approved in your local area. The sooner you can begin cleanup, the less additional damage you or your insurance company will need to worry about. Find out what you need to do and when you can expect a claims adjuster to come to the property.
Document the Damage and Secure the Property
If the fire is big enough, you might not be able to get into the property for a day or two. The fire department won’t let you back in until it’s safe. As soon as you can, begin to document damage. Take video or pictures but go room by room and check everything - walls, appliances, structures, flooring, every inch of the property. Make sure even the smallest damage is accounted for.
Once you’re sure you’ve documented every detail, secure the property. The last thing you need is for someone to loot your tenants’ belongings or cause further damage to your rental. Board up the windows and doors. Lock what you can. Use plastic to cover any part of the home that’s been exposed due to the fire or the efforts to put out the fire.
Remind Tenants to Call Their Insurance Company
Your tenants should have renter’s insurance. It’s a good practice to make it a requirement in the lease. Your insurance isn’t going to replace their stuff. Some tenants will sue the landlord regardless of who’s at fault in order to pay their expenses. Renter’s insurance can help avoid this problem by replacing what the tenants lost in the fire.
Repair the Damage As Soon As You Can
When you’re on the phone with your insurance company filing the claim, make sure to ask about what you need to do to make repairs. You might have to get bids first or wait for the investigation to be done. As soon as you have the all clear from everyone and you have a licensed contractor ready to help, get the damage fixed as soon as possible. Be prepared for a possible long wait for city or county inspections, but don’t neglect these, either.
No one wants to imagine a fire destroying their property. It’s not only devastating for you but also your tenant. Make yearly inspections a habit and do your best to prevent fires with smoke alarms and fire extinguishers. When you must have electrical work done, make sure you use a licensed or certified electrician.
When you work with a property management company like ERA American Real Estate, we can not only help you prevent fires but also manage the repairs if your tenants fall victim to one. Contact us today and let’s talk about how we can make your life as a landlord much easier and less stressful.