What is Your Landlord’s Responsibility in the Case of a Fire?

Considering the devastating events happening right now in California, you might be wondering… What is your commercial landlord’s responsibility if your business is damaged or destroyed by wildfire?

In most cases, the responsibility for fire safety is split between landlord and tenant. However, because individual cities might enforce additional requirements, beyond those set forth at the state level, it would be impossible to determine each party’s exact obligations without taking a look at your lease. Having said that, the following general requirements apply in many, or most, situations.

Compliance with building codes. Before renting a space, commercial landlords must comply with all standards regarding habitability, accessibility, and safety. This includes fire safety. However, since building codes can change over time, this is not a “once and you’re done” proposition. When compliance standards change, commercial landlords must update their properties appropriately. Conducting regular inspections and making the necessary upgrades or repairs can keep buildings up to code.

Maintenance and repairs. Tenants are usually responsible for general maintenance and repairs, beyond those laid out by building codes. This would include things like removal of hazardous materials, plumbing repairs, maintenance of electrical and air conditioning systems, and so on. Smoke detectors and maintenance of sprinkler systems would fall into this category and, therefore, are the tenant’s responsibility.

Insurance requirements. Landlords should carry appropriate commercial property insurance on all of their buildings, to cover losses to the structure. These policies might also cover contents of the building, but since that coverage can be limited, tenants should also purchase their own insurance coverage for valuable business equipment. Most commercial leases require the tenant to maintain insurance.

On-site injuries. Landlords can be held responsible for on-site injuries only if the injury was caused by negligence to uphold their end of the lease agreement (and all applicable legal obligations).

In the case of wildfires, we are dealing with a natural disaster that is largely uncontrollable. However, both landlord and tenant should still take the time to review their lease, inspect the building, and ensure that both parties have complied with all legal responsibilities with regard to maintenance and safety.

If you need help with your commercial lease, or have any other questions about your rights and responsibilities, call our real estate attorneys for advice specifically geared to your situation.



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