Can my landlord make us pay his insurance deductable for a fire that was determined accidental by the fire marshall?

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Can my landlord make us pay his insurance deductable for a fire that was determined accidental by the fire marshall?

My boy friend always keeps a “butt bucket” (plastic folgers can) next to our front door. It’s always full of water and has never been a problem. A week ago we woke up to the fire alarm and an apartment full of smoke, the butt bucket caught fire. It burned the exterior wall and the deck and there is smoke damage to the other 3 units. The fire didn’t burn through the wall or ceiling of the deck but the fire fighters had to make holes to make sure nothing was left burning. Insurance is covering everything but the landlord wants us to pay his deductable of $1000. Is this legal?

Asked on April 26, 2012 under Real Estate Law, Maine

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

If a person negligently, or through carelessness--i.e. "accidentally," if that accident is the product of carelessness--causes damage to another's property, he or she could be held liable (financially responsible) for the damage. A determination that the fire was an accident, as opposed to deliberate, does not necessarily mean that there is no liability. Therefore, if the landlord feels your boyfriend was careless (e.g. that he shouldn't have had a butt bucket at all; or that he carelessly let the water level fall too low; or that he had tried to throw a butt in it, but missed and let it smolder elsewhere; etc.), the landlord may ask for him to cover the landlord's out-of-pocket cost (the deductible). If  your boyfriend disagrees, he can refuse to pay and let the landlord try to sue him and prove his case in court.


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