Rental Properties & Wildfire Damage

The latest string of wildfires in California has laid waste to the houses, businesses, vehicles, and vegetation that make this state great. The people who lived in these areas have seen their lives devastated.

According to CAL FIRE, there were up to 21 fires going on at the same time all across the state. These 21 wildfires took out a total of 245,000 acres of land, forced 100,000 residents to evacuate from their homes and burned down 8,900 different buildings of numerous structure. These numbers continue to grow as does the death toll — which now is 43 lives lost.

Houses, rental properties, businesses, and vehicles were lost in these fires. The Sacramento Bee reported that an estimated 5 percent of the housing stock in Santa Rosa was completely wiped out by the wildfires. Even more homes outside the city limits were destroyed as Santa Rosa continues to be one of the most devastated areas by this latest string of fires.

The rebuilding efforts around California are slowly starting to take place, and the concern is growing quickly over where the displaced families from these wildfires will live.

The Sacramento Bee wrote a story detailing the rising rent prices around California, specifically in the North Bay Area. It goes:

“Rents have skyrocketed across the region in recent years as the vacancy rate hovers around 1 percent and home prices soar. Residents are spending 30 to 50 percent of their income or more on housing. State and federal resources are stretched thin, like floods, fires and hurricanes have gripped the nation and California confronts an unprecedented, statewide housing crisis. Meanwhile, many whose homes burned are finding their insurance policies won’t cover the cost of rebuilding. Others lack home or renter’s insurance altogether. Some say the task of rebuilding could be more difficult because of an ongoing construction worker shortage.”

This kind of impact could be vastly detrimental to homeowners and even more so to Californians who own rental properties or investment properties. The tenants in these rental properties are not excluded either, and the owners of these rental properties need to be aware of the responsibilities that they owe to their tenants.

This same thing goes with the tenants in these rental properties, who have rights of their own. If you are reading this there is a good chance you have seen your rental property or home damaged or lost as a result of the wildfires. The information available for renters and rental property owners who have seen their possessions lost in a fire is scarce, so The Sargent Firm Injury Lawyers is glad you found your way here.

California Renters will be looking for their landlords and property managers for all the necessary information on where they can live while their place of residence was damaged or lost in the latest string of California wildfires. On the other hand, the landlords, property owners/managers and investors will have a lot of questions to answer.

If you are one of these managers or landlords, you will need to work with repairmen and make sure whatever is in the lease agreements to make sure all your tenant’s rights are taken care of. Here’s what you will need to know if you are either a renter or a rental property owner:

What happens when your rental property is damaged by fire

California rental property owners and managers have been obliged by the California Government to uphold the Implied Warranty of Habitability to their renters and tenants. According to Cal. Civ. Code §§ 1941: “A rental unit must be fit to live in; that is, it must be habitable.” In legalese terms, “habitable” means that the rental house or property has adequate and reasonable living conditions for human beings and that the property is built totally up to code as warranted by the state of California.

A renter’s right to an implied warranty of habitability is something will be the most common statute cited by renters when looking for protection and trying to get placed in some kind of temporary housing. In fact, in California, if a tenant has to temporarily relocate for required maintenance and repairs, a tenant is not required to pay rent to his landlord during the time he is not able to live at the property he rents.

However, if a property has suffered a total loss, like those homes in Napa and Sonoma counties, the California Department of Real Estate states that a rental lease will be terminated and the landlord is not required to provide temporary housing, and the tenant can stop paying rent.

If the rental property is only partially destroyed and that damage is not the fault of the tenant, the tenant may terminate the lease upon delivery of a written notice to the landlord if a substantial part of the premises is lost or if a major portion of the premises necessary for tenant’s use is severely damaged.

What are my rights as a renter?

If your rental home or apartment was destroyed in the fire, your landlord or property manager should have communicated your rights to you and have provided information about repairs, relocation, or lease termination.  If you have a California renters insurance policy — which you should — your policy can help cover the cost of belongings. The American Red Cross, FEMA, and several local non-profits have set up relief and recovery stations in the communities for displaced California residents to find resources.

If you have suffered permanent displacement because of total property destruction, your options are leaning towards finding new rental housing.  A grave story reported by The Mercury News, reveals that rental prices have nearly tripled in Santa Rosa on Craigslist.

The Mercury News also reports that, in Sonoma County, local officials are promoting the Shared Housing and Resource Exchange program, or SHARE, which was initially designed for homeowners aged 60 or older, though it would be used by anyone with extra space in their homes or rental properties. It lets the homeowner post open rooms and helps people looking for a room to get paired with a landlord by either entering into a regular lease agreement or trading some clearly defined services the renter provides, such as cooking and commuting the property owner to appointments or work.

Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore told Mercury News, “The county is focused on creating incentives for those with vacation homes to open their residences to people displaced by the fires.” Similarly, in Santa Rosa, Vice Mayor Jack Tibbetts said: “Officials are partnering with Craigslist and Airbnb to get residents to open spare bedrooms and in-law units to activate otherwise idle spaces.”

Renters, investors, landlords, and property managers in these areas are advised to look for quality legal assistance in California for more advice on rental laws.


Call Attorney Ryan Sargent Today

The Sargent Firm Injury Lawyers has a team of attorneys who have litigated fire damage before and can help you too if your rental property or investment property has been damaged or lost as a result of the wildfires. Your consultation is free and is no obligation required. Call us Today!

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