If a tree fell on my rental house, am I responsible to pay my tenants hotel expenses while they are displaced?

A tree fell on my home causing significant damage. I have regular homeowners insurance but not specifically for a rental unit. My tenants do not have renters insurance. Am I responsible to pay their living expenses while they are displaced for safety reasons or for the reconstruction?

Asked on May 22, 2012 under Real Estate Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

The lease would be terminated if you are unable to provide them with the space they are renting (or a reasonable alternative under the circumstances) due to events beyond your control. You have essentially two choices:

1) You can pay for their living expenses while they are displaced, while still collecting rent from them and keeping the lease in force--you would need to provide alternate space which is as reasonably comparable or acceptable to them as is feasible under the circumstances, and resolve the situation as quickly as possible; or

2) You can treat the lease as  terminated not due to your fault, but due to an action or event beyond your control (tree falling); your tenants would be able to move out, you would not collect any more rent (the lease would be over), and it is possible that they might be able to hold you liable for some moving costs, depending on the exact circumstances (or you might choose to pay some such costs in any event, to avoid the risk andn distraction of litigation). This would be based on "impossibility"--the law recognizes that contracts (including leases) can be voided due to the physical or practicality of honoring them, so long as neither party is responsible for that impossibility.


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