When it comes to managing a property, it is best to do as much preventative maintenance as possible. Unfortunately, as a property manager and not a resident, you cannot be on-site at all times to prevent every possible fire hazard from literally exploding in an occupant’s face. Sometimes, despite your best efforts to prevent fires from occurring in a property, you will find yourself having to deal with the aftermath of a blaze.
So, after a fire has broken out at a property, how should you handle the situation as a property manager?
Well, just like your responsibilities to collect and adjust rent, you have a duty when fire has damaged a property which you are contracted to manage: get the property back in working order, if at all possible. Once the dust has settled and the property is safe for you (or your expert) to enter, you are ready to start the process of getting the fire-damaged building restored:
Inspect the Structural Damage
After the fire department has cleared the residence as being safe to enter, and the occupants have been given the chance to either remove their belongings or file insurance claims for them, you should give the property a thorough inspection to determine the extent of the damage.
If the fire department has shut off the utilities, such as water, gas, and electricity, do not turn them back on yourself. If these utilities are safe to use, the fire department will turn them back on before they leave the site of the fire.
Catalog as many specific structural faults and damage sites as you possibly can. Take pictures of the damage and save the images where you can find them easily at a later date. It is important to document the damage as thoroughly as possible so that you can substantiate the insurance claim you will be filing later.
In the case of severe fire damage, you may not be allowed to enter the property at all. If the fire department says not to go in, DO NOT GO IN. If the damage to the building is so bad that the structure is a total loss, contact the property owner and discuss the possibility of having to demolish the old structure.
Contact the Insurance Company
Begin filing your insurance claim with the insurer as soon as you can after you have had a chance to document the extent of the fire damage. Give the insurer a detailed list of all the items that were damaged in the fire, and let them know that you have documentation. Ask the insurer to send an adjuster to estimate the total value of the damage. Do not give them an estimate over the phone.
Secure the Premises
While you are waiting for the building to be made habitable again, it will be necessary for you to enact security measures to prevent the looting of valuables that may have been left on the premises. Cordon off the site of the damage to discourage entry by others, which not only curtail looting, but also reduces the likelihood of people being injured on the property.
Of course, your other responsibilities may prevent you from being able to monitor the site 24/7 until the repairs can begin, but you can consult with your local emergency services for advice about how to properly secure the area.
Arrange for Temporary Housing for the Occupants
Hopefully, the occupants are all in good health after the fire. However, until the building has been made habitable for them again, they will need a place to stay.
Check your insurance policy for the property and check whether or not it makes a provision for temporary housing in the case of a fire, and how much of the housing expenses it will cover. If the insurance does cover temporary housing, then try to help the occupants find appropriate lodgings that will be covered by the insurance.
If the insurance does not have a clause covering temporary housing, you will still need to help the occupants find a temporary new home, but now you may have to come to an arrangement concerning how to handle the cost of the temporary housing with the occupant.
If repairs are expected to take an extremely long time, let the tenants know. If the occupants are not responsible for the fire, they may terminate the lease if the building is deemed unfit for habitation by a state agency. In such a condition, you will most likely have to prepare to return any security deposits, and forward rent, if applicable under the lease agreement and your state’s specific rules regarding damaged/destroyed rental properties.
If the tenants are responsible for the fire, then they will still owe you rent for the property, even if it is uninhabitable.
Obtain a Report from the Investigator
Speaking of fault in the fire, it is important that you know what the root cause of the fire was, and who is at fault. Was the fire the result of an electrical fault, wildfire, an accident involving an open flame, or a deliberate act of arson? Was the fire caused by tenant negligence or a lack of proper maintenance on the part of the landlord/property manager? Many of the obligations you, the landlord, and the tenants will have are going to be based on who will be considered “at fault” for the destruction of the property.
Obtaining the fire marshal’s report about the cause of the blaze as soon as possible can help you prepare for the other measures you will have to take in order to fulfill your legal obligations to all parties.
For More Advice…
With luck, you will be able to deal with the aftermath of a fire quickly and efficiently so that you can begin the process of actually restoring the property to like new condition as soon as possible. If you have more questions about what you can do to deal with a fire, or need help with the restoration process, contact us right away.