Who Is Liable
It is undeniable that dramatic and strange weather patterns have been on the increase. Not only have we seen the highest temperatures ever recorded in some areas, but massive hail storms and flash floods as well.This is all happening at the same time as other parts of the country continue to experience severe drought and devastating fires.During extreme weather cycles, physical damage to a property can be unavoidable.But is an owner or tenant liable for this kind of damage?“The risk and liability involved with immovable property will always be that of the owner. The owner is thus liable for all damages caused by 'vis major',” says Dickens.She says ‘vis major’ is a legal term referring to a superior force, which is outside of human control. It includes acts of nature or acts of God such as lightning, earthquake, flood or violent storms.Damage to the structure of the property, unless caused by the gross negligence of the tenant, is the responsibility of the owner.“This is also the case with permanent fittings, for instance cupboards, baths, toilets or curtain rails. If the tenant causes a fire in the kitchen through gross negligence, and in so doing burns down the house, the blame - and therefore liability - for the damage falls squarely on the tenant,” says Dickens.Cilna Steyn, Managing Director of SSLR Inc., property specialist law firm, says she can provide practical advice concerning this.“The question to ask is: who caused the damage? If the damage was caused by the tenant, it is the tenant’s responsibility to fix it. If it was caused by the landlord, the landlord is liable for the damage. If the damage is nobody’s fault, the property owner is liable for repair of the damages,” says Steyn.“Another way of looking at the problem is: who has the insurable interest? A tenant cannot take out insurance on a property, whereas a landlord can. Therefore, tenants cannot be held liable unless they were grossly negligent.”How does this contrast with a property that is sold? If a property is sold but occupation has not yet taken place and the property is destroyed due to no fault of the seller, the sale is not terminated. The buyer remains liable for payment of the full purchase price.Steyn says every set of circumstances where a dispute arises regarding damages to a property is unique, and liability can therefore only be determined on a case by case basis. Here at SERVPRO of Burlington Township / Mount Holly want you to be knowledgeable of all scenarios and we hope that this helps you have a better understanding of the owner and landlord relationship.