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SLC
20-01-2009, 09:30 AM
Hi,

Unfortunately yesterday we had an electrical fire at the flat I rent. It seems to have been caused by the electric heater in our bedroom (waiting on fire report for confirmation on this, although there is little doubt).

Fortunately, the fire was caught quickly and it failed to escape the bedroom into the rest of the flat. However, my wardrobe has been pretty much ruined as the smoke has stained many clothes and left a lingering smell. We've lost a few other items as well.

We never took out contents insurance. So we were wondering where that left us in terms of being able to claim against the landlord as it was the faulty heater that caused the fire? Basically, who's liable for the fire?

I am in no way comfortable with this approach, but the value of the loss is considerable (I'd have slept easier last night if we had insurers to deal with this on our behalf). From the bit of reading I've done around this subject, it seems we may have a case to claim through the landlord's insurance as it was his appliance that caused the accident, not our own negligence.

The flat is also uninhabitable for 4-6 weeks, can we claim back our rent for this period as we have had to find other accommodation?

Thank you in advance of your responses.

SLC.

MrJohnnyB
20-01-2009, 09:52 AM
It depends what your agreement says, I don't really have much practical experience with residential property, but if the heater is part of the actual space heating ie its a fixed heater then it falls under the landlords responsibility under s11 of the LTA 1985 to maintain and keep in good working order the space heating of the property.

SLC
20-01-2009, 10:00 AM
Thanks JohnnyB. We need to have a look at that.

Has anyone else got any thoughts?

Sorrel
20-01-2009, 10:29 AM
Thanks JohnnyB. We need to have a look at that.

Has anyone else got any thoughts?

I have a thought, why no contents insurance?

If the heater was supplied as part of the fixtures and fittings i.e a heater that is hardwired into the mains or a heater that was provided by the landlord, then providing you haven't tampered with the heater in anyway or put the wrong fuse in the plug etc, I would have thought the damage should be claimed for on the landlords insurance.

When you say the flat was uninhabitable, is the flat 1 bedroom or does it have a second bedroom that could have been used?

SLC
20-01-2009, 10:53 AM
No excuse for not having contents insurance. I decided to take the chance and lost. We live in a fully furnished, top floor flat. I reasoned the chances of burglary were extremely slim... as for fire... The worst situation would've been a fire in the bedroom as thats where our possessions are, and it happened.

I do feel extremely naive for not taking out insurance.

No, we haven't tampered with the heater. My assumption is that if we had contents insurance, then they would be claiming through the landlord on my behalf. I'm just looking for confirmation if this would be the course of action based on the evidence.

It's a 2 bedroom, so once the flat is cleaned we could move back. I'm happy to move back asap IF the flat's in a good condition and the other heaters have been PAT tested.

Thanks for your reply.

Ericthelobster
20-01-2009, 11:01 AM
I'm happy to move back asap IF the flat's in a good condition and the other heaters have been PAT tested.So was the heater in question not PAT tested? If not, and if it was a fault in said heater which caused the fire (as opposed to that jumper which you left draped over it to dry) then I would have thought you would have a pretty good case for going after the landlord for costs; regardless of whether the heater's hard-wired or not.

But if it is found that it was your fault the heater went up, then maybe expect the landlord to come after you...

jeffrey
20-01-2009, 11:05 AM
Re LTA 1985: this applies to "installations", but not to "fixtures, fittings, and appliances for making use of the supply of...electricity": s.11(1)(b).

SLC
20-01-2009, 11:18 AM
But if it is found that it was your fault the heater went up, then maybe expect the landlord to come after you...

No, it was clear of any clothes, bags... anything flammable (we'd even tucked the curtains up and away from the heater!). You can see on the wall where it caught alight, by the controls of the heater and where all the wiring was... although it was attached to the wall, it wasn't 'hard-wired'.

We don't want to "go after" anyone! It's pretty clear that there was a fault with the heater but I'm not sure if it would've been PAT tested, although I do know it was a fairly new heater.

It does seem that people have the same impression as me; that the landlord should have to claim for the damages on his insurance. I'm not looking to "get away" with not having insurance... if it's concluded that it's my responsibility then I will accept it. But obviously, as I haven't, I'm trying to establish what steps insurers would take in this situation.

Thanks Eric.

SLC
20-01-2009, 11:29 AM
Re LTA 1985: this applies to "installations", but not to "fixtures, fittings, and appliances for making use of the supply of...electricity": s.11(1)(b).

Hi Jeffrey,

I've read this statement in our contract. My interpretation of this is that the heater came as part of the flat, we could not remove it (although we didn't have to use it, just as we wouldn't have to use any equipment supplied), and had to use it if we wanted to make our room warm (particularly over this recent cold snap!).

Thanks for your reply.

jeffrey
20-01-2009, 11:45 AM
OK; if it came 'installed', L is liable.

Ericthelobster
20-01-2009, 15:16 PM
PAT = PORTABLE appliance testing.

Wall mounted indicates it is fixed.

Was it hard wired into the wall via a fused spur?I think it's arguable; but my tame sparks says that anything with a plug on the end is 'portable' as regards PAT testing, and if it's hard-wired via a spur then it isn't. The logic being that anything which is hard-wired cannot be lugged around and abused (as much) so doesn't need the PAT test. So my coal-effect electric fire, which is fixed into the fireplace but has a 13A plug, gets PAT tested, whereas the cooker hood, which is on a spur, doesn't.

jeffrey
20-01-2009, 15:29 PM
I think it's arguable; but my tame sparks says that anything with a plug on the end is 'portable' as regards PAT testing, and if it's hard-wired via a spur then it isn't. The logic being that anything which is hard-wired cannot be lugged around and abused (as much) so doesn't need the PAT test. So my coal-effect electric fire, which is fixed into the fireplace but has a 13A plug, gets PAT tested, whereas the cooker hood, which is on a spur, doesn't.
On that basis, I'd guess that:
a. portable= appliance= not within s.11; whilstd
b. fixed= installation= within s.11.

SLC
20-01-2009, 16:43 PM
PAT = PORTABLE appliance testing.

Wall mounted indicates it is fixed.

Was it hard wired into the wall via a fused spur? Some panel heaters require a fixed installation rather than plug.

It wasn't hard wired, just plugged into a normal socket. However, it was fixed to a bracket on the wall, making it unmovable.

Grey area...

mind the gap
20-01-2009, 17:07 PM
It wasn't hard wired, just plugged into a normal socket. However, it was fixed to a bracket on the wall, making it unmovable.

Grey area...

In that case it must surely be LL's responsibility, especially if the is the main/only source of space heating for the room.

johnjw
20-01-2009, 22:11 PM
The landlord is clearly responsible for replacing the heater but I can't really see why he would be responsible for replacing SLC's damaged contents.
We all know that (without it necessarily being someones fault) electrical appliances can become faulty and that there may be consequential damage. The landlord may well have insured the dwelling and landlords contents but he/she cannot insure the tenants contents. In this case, SLC tells us that the heater was relatively new, so this probably rules out the argument that the landlord was negligent in providing defective equipment.

rajeshk4u
21-01-2009, 02:18 AM
Can you say what type of heater it was e.g. convector, fan, oil, storage etc....

Also, it is worth contacting the manufacturer and asking them why their heaters should catch fire. There could be a manufacturer's fault.

I had a emmersion timer swich burn up. When I phone up, I found here was a product recall and then found the replacement had a further product recall a few months later!

Ericthelobster
21-01-2009, 07:42 AM
In this case, SLC tells us that the heater was relatively new, so this probably rules out the argument that the landlord was negligent in providing defective equipment.Well, that's why appliances under 12 months old don't require PAT testing, but those older than that do.

johnjw
21-01-2009, 09:46 AM
I think the point at issue in this thread, is whether SLC has a reasonable claim against the LL for damage to tenant's contents caused by the landlord's electrical heater.
It's an important area for discussion. Suppose the fire had been much worse and more of SLC's contents - say £20000's worth, had been damaged. Furthermore, SLC had to be given alternative accommodation for say 2 months, while repairs were carried out.
The total damage, c. £22K could bankrupt the landlord if he/she were deemed to be responsible and this would follow from a risk that the landlord (for the most part) cannot insure for. I'd suggest that this wouldn't be a fair outcome.
I think SLC would only have a valid claim if it could be shown that the landlord had been negligent in relation to the heater. This would be difficult to prove. So far as I'm aware, there is no legal requirement for annual PAT testing and there isn't a moral or commonsense requirement either. How many people do regular PAT testing in their own homes?
Electrical faults in appliances are rare and it's rarer still for there to be collateral damage. However faults do occur occasionally and it's the role of insurance to cover the risk.
I think tenants should be strongly advised by their LL to insure their contents.

SLC
21-01-2009, 09:58 AM
Can you say what type of heater it was e.g. convector, fan, oil, storage etc....

Also, it is worth contacting the manufacturer and asking them why their heaters should catch fire. There could be a manufacturer's fault.


It was a convector heater.

I've spoken to the LL about this and suggested it might be something he wants to take up with the manufacturer.

The heater was over a year old, so it may be that it did require a PAT test.

jta
21-01-2009, 10:05 AM
These convector heaters have nothing inside them that can actually catch fire. It sounds more likely that something was left on, or near it, or even dropped into it, that blocked it, and caught fire.
I'd have thought that insurance should cover the collateral damage though.

SLC
21-01-2009, 10:15 AM
I think the point at issue in this thread, is whether SLC has a reasonable claim against the LL for damage to tenant's contents caused by the landlord's electrical heater.

Hi johnjw,

It is an interesting discussion, and I was surprised to find so little information out there.

My understanding is that IF I had contents insurance, their legal team would reclaim their costs back off of LL's insurers, as it would be proved that the LL was liable; is that correct? Much like if you had a car crash that you were not responsible for. Because I don't have insurance, I don't have the expertise on the end of the phone who would facilitate this process.

You make a good point... I think if it could be proved the LL had been negligent then I'd have a stronger case and I'd feel more comfortable looking at my options. Like you say, how many people test out their own equipment?

In reality, I don't blame the LL as it was an accident. But, someone will be held responsible. If I had left a jumper on the heater to dry, it would've been my fault. As the equipment proved to be faulty... Whether that's the LL or the manufacturer, I'm not sure yet. Based on that conclusion, I'd like to see if I'm entitled to replace some of my damaged clothes etc through their insurance. If I'm not, I'm not. But I've already learned my lesson.

SLC
21-01-2009, 10:20 AM
These convector heaters have nothing inside them that can actually catch fire. It sounds more likely that something was left on, or near it, or even dropped into it, that blocked it, and caught fire.
I'd have thought that insurance should cover the collateral damage though.

Hi jta,

We always left the area clear. The closest item to it was the bed side table (which took the brunt of the fire and it the only item that got destroyed).

By looking at the wall, the fire clearly started by the wiring/controls of the heater, not actually where the heat leaves the appliance, where I'd expect something to catch alight. We are sure that we didn't turn the heater on in the morning, but even if we had, the internal theromstat should've managed the temperature of the heater and switched it off periodically.

Who's insurance do you think should cover the collateral damage?

Thanks for your reply.

Ericthelobster
21-01-2009, 10:42 AM
So far as I'm aware, there is no legal requirement for annual PAT testing and there isn't a moral or commonsense requirement either. How many people do regular PAT testing in their own homes?Fair comment; for a standard non-HMO tenancy PAT testing comes under the same bracket has whole-house electrical testing - it's not compulsory, but - and I'm really talking about the fixed wiring here, as clearly appliances appear to be a grey area - the landlord is still responsible for the safety of his tenants, and in the event of something bad happening like this, having the necessary paperwork is the best way for a landlord to prove he's discharged his obligations in that regard.


It's an important area for discussion. Suppose the fire had been much worse and more of SLC's contents - say £20000's worth, had been damagedI do agree - and how about even worse than that: say someone had died in the fire, God forbid? If the landlord was deemed culpable then, that would presumably come under his landlord's personal liability insurance; but as in the present case would he potentially be culpable?

SLC - is anyone (Environmental Health/Fire Brigade/heater manufacturer) examining this heater to determine the actual cause of it catching fire? That would seem to be the crux of the situation.

SLC
21-01-2009, 11:21 AM
I do agree - and how about even worse than that: say someone had died in the fire, God forbid? If the landlord was deemed culpable then, that would presumably come under his landlord's personal liability insurance; but as in the present case would he potentially be culpable?
Good point. It's interesting how your perception of the situation changes with the different outcome scenarios of the accident. johnjw's comment about the cost of damage to my goods being far greater than what it is made me think that what I'm trying to do is unfair, and I should accept that not taking out insurance has cost me.

However, if the fire had happened during the night I could've sustained severe burns or worse... who would my family be seeking compensation off of in that instance? Does the liability of the incident change with the outcome? The common factor in any "what if's" is that the heater seems to have developed a fault and caught fire. But the LL can't forever be checking the electrical appliances can he?


SLC - is anyone (Environmental Health/Fire Brigade/heater manufacturer) examining this heater to determine the actual cause of it catching fire? That would seem to be the crux of the situation.

I guess the fire brigade took it away, but I'm not sure what investigating they're doing. I'm waiting for the fire report which I'm hoping will identify the cause of the fire. If it doesn't, and the LL wants written proof of a fault, then we'll have to look at how we can do that. For all I know though the Fire Brigade could've thrown it away.

Apologies if my ramblings don't make much sense.

Ericthelobster
21-01-2009, 11:31 AM
I guess the fire brigade took it away, but I'm not sure what investigating they're doing. I'm waiting for the fire report which I'm hoping will identify the cause of the fire. If it doesn't, and the LL wants written proof of a fault, then we'll have to look at how we can do that. For all I know though the Fire Brigade could've thrown it away.Fortunately I've no personal experience of house fires. But if I were you I'd be getting on the phone and asking the Fire Brigade what will happen (I'd have thought they'd be investigating the heater but if they don't, maybe someone else will? Especially if you press the issue?

jeffrey
21-01-2009, 11:37 AM
Of course, it is always possible that no-one is legally liable. Not everything in life is suable for.
Someone recently said, "Nobody has accidents any more- only claims!"

SLC
21-01-2009, 11:54 AM
Of course, it is always possible that no-one is legally liable. Not everything in life is suable for.
Someone recently said, "Nobody has accidents any more- only claims!"

Very true. Again, if that's the case I accept it. And that's exactly what I'm trying to find out.

I don't understand the legalities of the situation. If I can claim damages through his insurance, I will. If I can't and my only option is to sue him, then I won't. The amount of damage that's been done isn't worth the distress it would cause for all parties. Why should the LL suffer financial loss to cover my stupidity in not taking insurance???

As I said previously, I don't hold the LL responsible. It was an unfortunate accident. But, due to my stupidity in not taking insurance I've left myself with this situation and I've little option but to at least investigate if I can claim anything through his insurance.

jeffrey
21-01-2009, 11:56 AM
Very true. Again, if that's the case I accept it. And that's exactly what I'm trying to find out.

I don't understand the legalities of the situation. If I can claim damages through his insurance, I will. If I can't and my only option is to sue him, then I won't. The amount of damage that's been done isn't worth the distress it would cause for all parties.

As I said previously, I don't hold the LL responsible. It was an unfortunate accident. But, due to my stupidity in not taking insurance I've left myself with this situation and I've little option but to at least investigate if I can claim anything through his insurance.
OK- I wasn't knocking you. You'd be a very good case study for an Insurer seeking to sell contents insurance to tenants, of course!

johnjw
21-01-2009, 12:26 PM
SLC, you're looking at this problem in a very fair-minded way and I hope the eventual outcome is satisfactory for you.
I've thought quite a bit about insurance on rental properties and (as a LL)have worried about scenarios such as the one you describe. So much so, that I've considered paying for the tenant content insurance myself. It isn't a huge amount (c.£120/yr) in relation to the rent and eventually (I thought) it could be taken account of, in setting the amount of rent.
Unfortunately a LL can't insure some-one elses goods/interest, so it isn't in fact an option. However, I do spend considerable time discussing the importance of tenant content insurance. Arguments about who is to blame (even more than with car accidents, because the LL/T relationship will probably continue after the accident) are best avoided. It makes life easier all round, if both LL and T are adequately insured.

SLC
21-01-2009, 12:30 PM
OK- I wasn't knocking you. You'd be a very good case study for an Insurer seeking to sell contents insurance to tenants, of course!

Yes, I suppose I would! Sorry if I seemed "uppity", I just don't want people to think I'm trying to "screw" the landlord. I'm after advice on the course of action I should take... but I won't use it to see him suffer a financial loss (perhaps a bump up of his insurance premium, temporarily ;)) for my mistake in not taking insurance. I wouldn't feel so bad about seeing his insurers pay out though, if that's what I'm entitled to!

Thanks for your participation so far.

SLC
21-01-2009, 12:41 PM
SLC, you're looking at this problem in a very fair-minded way and I hope the eventual outcome is satisfactory for you.

Thanks, me too!


I've thought quite a bit about insurance on rental properties and (as a LL)have worried about scenarios such as the one you describe. So much so, that I've considered paying for the tenant content insurance myself. It isn't a huge amount (c.£120/yr) in relation to the rent and eventually (I thought) it could be taken account of, in setting the amount of rent.
Unfortunately a LL can't insure some-one elses goods/interest, so it isn't in fact an option. However, I do spend considerable time discussing the importance of tenant content insurance. Arguments about who is to blame (even more than with car accidents, because the LL/T relationship will probably continue after the accident) are best avoided. It makes life easier all round, if both LL and T are adequately insured.

Absolutely. Regardless of the outcome, due to the relationship I have to have the the LL, I'm not going to fight over this. He's always been helpful and we've got a good relationship, and he's been sympathetic to our situation since the fire. We spoke yesterday and I mentioned the subject of liability, he doesn't seem to know the rules though. If we can come to an agreement then great (and I'm hopeful of this). If we can't, I'm not going to escalate the issue. It would just be easier to reach an agreement if we all knew, legally, where we stood.

If we agree that the flat is uninhabitable for 4 weeks, that saved rent would cover our damages... I could be on to something there.

I will certainly be taking insurance out as soon as we're back into the flat.

SALL
21-01-2009, 12:54 PM
From a logical point of view it seems quite simple. LL insurance covers any damages to the building. Tenants then need content insurance for their belongings. If LL building insurance was to cover contents, there would be no need for content insurance. So I think LL insurance would not pay for tenants contents.

You might be able to sue LL for damages if the fire was caused due to his fault, but that’s another mater.

SLC
21-01-2009, 13:00 PM
Unfortunately a LL can't insure some-one elses goods/interest, so it isn't in fact an option. However, I do spend considerable time discussing the importance of tenant content insurance. Arguments about who is to blame (even more than with car accidents, because the LL/T relationship will probably continue after the accident) are best avoided. It makes life easier all round, if both LL and T are adequately insured.

As Jeffrey said, my situation does make a good argument for buying contents insurance!

I think you said it's something like £10 a month for insurance, to risk your belongings for that amount is ridiculous. The stats out there are frightening, there's a surprisingly (to me) large %'age of renters who don't take out contents insurance.

SLC
21-01-2009, 13:07 PM
From a logical point of view it seems quite simple. LL insurance covers any damages to the building. Tenants then need content insurance for their belongings. If LL building insurance was to cover contents, there would be no need for content insurance. So I think LL insurance would not pay for tenants contents.

You might be able to sue LL for damages if the fire was caused due to his fault, but that’s another mater.

Hi Sall,

My question is: if I had contents insurance, would my insurer investigate the cause of the fire and try and reclaim their costs from the LL's insurer if it was proved to be his liability? Or would my insurer just pay me themselves?

If it's the former, then I think I should be able to claim through LL's insurance, just as my insurer would if I had a policy. In that instance they would just get the money to me quickly, then re-coup it from LL's insurer at a later date.

jeffrey
21-01-2009, 14:55 PM
All that any insurance company (C) does- if it accepts a claim by the insured party (P) against whoever was at fault (X)- is to pay P the amount of the claim in exchange for subrogation. That means:
a. P's rights against X pass to C;
b. C then considers if it wants to sue X; and
c. if there had been no insurance, P would have had to consider if it wanted to sue X.

LandlordLee
21-01-2009, 16:40 PM
I think the landlord is not liable for your contents at all. No PAT is required and the building is insured so the landlord has insurance to cover the building which you rent. If his contents were damaged he would replace them.

Rather than look at if you have a claim, look at it as though you have made a mistake. If it was your own home and you had no insurance, you would not only be looking at loss of contents, but the damage to the building as well.

SLC
21-01-2009, 16:53 PM
I think the landlord is not liable for your contents at all. No PAT is required and the building is insured so the landlord has insurance to cover the building which you rent. If his contents were damaged he would replace them.

Rather than look at if you have a claim, look at it as though you have made a mistake. If it was your own home and you had no insurance, you would not only be looking at loss of contents, but the damage to the building as well.

It's taken 2 days to get to this point, but I agree.

Thanks to all that contributed.

rajeshk4u
21-01-2009, 23:29 PM
It is worth encouraging tenants to take out contents insurance.

Though the risk of fire is low, but things such as burglaries, damage from water leak etc....