Disclaimer: I realize laws are different state to state and that I need to consult a lawyer. However, it’s Saturday and I can’t call anyone til Monday, so I’m asking here.
About three weeks ago a boiler at a duplex I have went out. The building is up and down, with the downstairs using radiant steam/gas heat and the upstairs has electric. I got a call on a Sunday night from the downstairs tenant saying she just came back from being out of town all weekend and her heat wasn’t working. Long story short, the boiler died and carbon monoxide was filling the basement. The gas company called the fire department, who evacuated the upstairs tenants, who were taken to the hospital to be checked out. They were fine, but sent me their medical bills for the ambulance trip and for being looked at. It seems crazy to me that I should be held responsible since they don’t have health insurance. Do you think there’s any merit to their request, or is it their problem and they’re just hoping I’ll fix it?
How much are you talking about?..Are they good tenants?..And if they are I would negotiate something small and fair and then have them sign a stip exonerating you from any further liability on this issue and anything in the future…Use this incident for all it’s worth if you are going to pay…
The bills run about $5,000. And they’re terrible tenants. Late with the rent every month at least a week. Frankly, Mike (propertymanager) would have evicted them months ago, but I’m too worried about trying to find a tenant in the middle of the winter. Late money is better than no money. Plus, they whine about everything under the sun, like how cold air is coming in through their dryer vent, as if it’s my fault they don’t have a dryer to hook up.
Oh and FWIW, rent is only $600/mo.
Also, I double checked the lease agreement and I’m wondering if this clause should cover me.
“8. Owner shall not be liable for any loss of property by fire, theft, breakage, burglary, or otherwise, nor for any accidental damage to persons or property in or about the leased premises resulting from electrical failure, water, rain, windstorm, etc., which may cause flow into or from any part of said premises or improvements; including pipes, gas lines, sprinklers, or electrical connections. Resident hereby agrees to purchase needed insurance, or to provide self-insurance in adequate amounts to offset any risk.”
It’s actually very much your problem and that clause won’t protect you at all if this ever gets before judge. I don’t know your state’s law, but in some you would be facing civil penalties in addition to whatever judgment the tenant would win. Negotiate some smaller amount with a general release for this incident and speak with a local attorney to determine your exact responsibilities. In the future, get rid of trouble quickly.
First of all, take a deep breath. Absolutely NOTHING needs to happen anytime soon (except the heat needs to be repaired, which you’ve probably already done). Unfortunately, anytime ANYTHING adverse happens in the rental property business, someone is going to threaten to sue you (and a few will actually sue you). That is a normal part of the business. I realize that you haven’t said that they want to sue you yet, but they probably will. Anyway, lawsuits take a LONG time to play out, and usually the tenants and their scumbag contingency lawyers will give up before it ever gets to court. The dreggs of society are looking for a quick, easy score (to extort money) - they are not looking for long drawn out court proceedings with little upside.
Do you know if these tenants are on Medicaid? If so, the bill has probably already been paid. In any case, they likely are not going to ONLY want medical expenses - they will want money for their pain and suffering. Doing anything rash (like paying their medical bills) could be construed as an admission of guilt.
I would certainly recommend talking to a GOOD attorney to see where you stand. Unfortunately, lawyers will often recommend that you settle and then you’ll need to decide if that’s what you want to do. Personally, I DO NOT SETTLE - I FIGHT!!! With all the rentals I have, I simply can not afford to settle. That would just make me a great big target for every loser that wants to win the landlord lottery.
Two other points: I HATE GAS!!! In my experience, gas is nothing but trouble in rentals. There are a certain percentage of tenants who are simply NUTS. They will think that they have carbon monoxice poisoning because they see something on 60 minutes or read something in the paper. In addition, gas can explode (not good either). While I still have quite a few rentals with gas heat, I am changing them over to electric as quickly as I can (and certainly when a gas furnace bites the dust). With rentals, you’ve always got to be thinking about potential hazards. If there is a way for a tenant to claim an injury, they’ll find it. Eliminate every possible hazard you can.
Finally, you’re right - you certainly should have gotten rid of these tenants as soon as you realized they were trouble. I only do month-to-month leases with low income tenants so that I can get rid of them if I don’t like them. I do NOT keep problem tenants because they are the ones that will sue you; call the health department; call the building inspector; whine and complain, etc. It is almost always cheaper to have an empty rental than to have a rental with scumbags in it!!