What to do if I’ve been renting a property for the last 5 years and recently there was a small fire in the kitchen that was an accident?

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What to do if I’ve been renting a property for the last 5 years and recently there was a small fire in the kitchen that was an accident?

The landlord has insurance and I have agreed to pay the deductible for repairs. After paying rent for this month, the landlord has now contacted me by phone and asked me to vacate the property within 2 weeks. What are my rights?

Asked on January 4, 2013 under Real Estate Law, Missouri

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

If you have a written lease for a definite period of time (such as a one-year lease), you may only be evicted at the end of the lease; for good cause, such as nonpayment of rent; or if the lease itself provides or states that you can be evicted in certain circumstances and the landlord complies with those rules or procedures. A fire in a rental unit's kitchen would typically only provide good cause for eviction if 1) it was caused by your intentional bad act or gross negligence/recklessness (more than usual carelessness), or 2) if it renders the unit uninhabitable. If the landlord is trying to evict you because you caused or contributed to the fire, if you don't believe you were more than ordinarily careless, you should have a good defense if brought to court (evictions must be through the courts).

Ordinary carelessness would be something like accidentally dropping a tea towel or paper towels on a burner because they slipped out of your hand, thereby sparking a fire. Recklessness or gross negligence would be using a stove for extra heat in the home; leaving a pot on a lit burner unattended; trying to deep fry without the right (safe) equipment, on a regular residential stove; turning on the over when there are containers or towels stored in it; etc.

If you are a month to month tenant, the landlord may give you 30 days notice (not 2 weeks) terminating your tenancy.


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