Your legal rights after a fire: What is landlord required to do?

By Diane Walker - bio | email

Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The law doesn't require a landlord to do much, after a fire. In this instance, the tenant says, she and her son were put out on the street, illegally and threatened that her belongings would be set out too. Managers for "Countryside Apartments" maintain, they are within their legal rights.

"It woofed up, you could see the smoke coming up from outside," said Latisha Bolden.

Through no fault of her own, Latisha Bolden's kitchen burned, April 17, prompting the city to deem her apartment unfit for human habitation. Fire fighters blame faulty electrical wiring.

"All this right here, damaged furniture, bedrooms, all the rooms are damaged with this black smoke and all," she said.

The single mother is homeless, living house to house. She gave her three year old son to her mother. "Countryside Apartments" ended the lease, seven months early and is offering nothing, in terms of temporary housing. A Countryside Apartment manager tells us, there are no available units and its not obligated to find housing elsewhere.

"Put me somewhere where for me and my child can lay our heads at night," said Latisha. "I don't have an eviction notice, only thing they did was ended my lease. I don't think they can do that?"

But, they can. Legal aid experts tell us, either party, Countryside or the tenant, can terminate the lease if the property is uninhabitable.

"There's no duty under VA law for the landlord to provide alternate housing. There's no duty under the law for the landlord to even compensate the tenant for the damaged belongings," said Senior Managing Attorney for Legal Aid Society Inc., Martin Wegbreit.

The apartment manager says, if they had a vacant unit, they would place her there, but, there's no legal obligation to do so. Landlords are not even required by law to promptly return security deposits. They have 45 days after the contracted ended.

"I don't have any money," Latisha said. "Don't know where I'm gonna live"

"It's a tremendous hardship on the tenant who suddenly, without their fault is made homeless," said Wegbreit.

Legal aid highly recommends renter's insurance. It also says, tenants can go to court, if they believe the landlord was negligent in some way.

File a warrant in debt. You don't need a lawyer to do that. Meantime, "Countryside Apartments" is taking Latisha Bolden to court, May 7, for past due rent for March, and part of April, before the fire.

(c) 2009. WWBT, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.