If I do not have renter’s insurance and a sprinkler head went off in my apartment, will I most likely have to pay out-of-pocket for the damage that is assessed?

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If I do not have renter’s insurance and a sprinkler head went off in my apartment, will I most likely have to pay out-of-pocket for the damage that is assessed?

My roommates and I were throwing a party with friends and our sprinkler in the coat closet door was closed began spewing water. We called the police immediately and got everyone out of the building. Unfortunately, I did not see what occurred, but we have 3 witnesses say they heard a buzzing noise from the closet and opened the door to investigate and found a pool of black water and water pouring down. No one was smoking in the apartment and we have proof from 3 people that the head was not hit. However, our landlord immediately came to the conclusion that

Asked on January 3, 2017 under Real Estate Law, Minnesota

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

First, check your lease and what it says about damage. If the lease, which is a contract, would hold you liable for any or all damage, then you would be liable--you agreed to be held liable in signing the lease. If the lease holds you liable for any damage not provably the landlord's fault, you would have to show that the landlord contributed to the incident, such as by improper installation or maintenance, to escape liability.
In the absence of a lease/contractual provision specifically about liability, the general law is that if you or a guest of yours was in any way negligent, or careless, and so caused the damage, you, as the tenant(s), are liable for it. (In turn, you could potentially sue the specific person who caused the damage/incident--i.e. who hit or triggered the sprinkler--for any amounts you have to pay or other losses you have, assuming you can identify him or her.) So in the absence of a lease provision, if the landlord believes that the facts or evidence show that you or a guest caused this, they could try to sue you for the money, and to win, would have to establish by a "preponderance of the evidence" (that it is "more likely than not") that you or a guest caused this; or the landlord might withhold part or all of your security deposit to pay for the loss and you'd then sue to get it back (assuming you wanted to fight for it), and again, in court, the landlord would have to show a factual or evidentiary basis for holding you liable.


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