Phil Querin Q&A: Home Fire in the Community – Rights, Duties and Liabilities

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Phil Querin

Question: A home burned down over the weekend in my community.  What are my rights and responsibilities?  How does the scenario change depending if the resident has or does NOT have insurance?

 

Answer:   This is a good question, and all too frequently ignored by owners and managers. The first question is whether the issue is addressed anywhere in the community documents, i.e. the statement of policy, rules, or rental agreement. Likely not. It really isn’t addressed in the Oregon Residential Landlord-Tenant Act, with the exception of ORS 90.222, which covers renter’s liability insurance, and is excluded from the manufactured housing section of the law.  

Strictly speaking, the fact that the home was destroyed and is likely uninhabitable does not make it any less of a resident responsibility than before the fire. In other words, it is the resident’s primary responsibility to either promptly repair, replace, or remove the home.  The space is still under lease or rental to the resident, so all of the same rules apply, i.e. to keep it in good condition and safe. If the home is nothing more than a shell, the resident should likely remove it as soon as possible.

If the resident does not have fire insurance to repair or replace the home, I suspect he or she will abandon it, thus making it your problem - or the problem of the lienholder if there is one. Incidentally, if there is a lienholder, the loan documents likely require fire insurance, and that it be a named insured on the policy.  If that is the case, then hopefully, between the resident and their insurance company, there may be available proceeds to repair or replace.[1]

If the resident abandons the home, you should immediately send out a 45-day abandonment letter, thus triggering your right (and duty) to take control of the personal property.  It is likely an attractive nuisance for children, which could result in injury to them, and liability to you.  In such case, you should consider having it either cordoned off with “No Trespassing” signs, or removed.  Make sure that you independently confirm that it is a total loss, and with no salvage value.  If there is salvage value, it belongs to the resident.

ORS 90.675is the abandonment law that applies generally to homes located in manufactured housing communities. Today it contains 23 separate subsections, a behemoth in size compared to most statutes.  Buried 21 sections down in the subterranean recesses of the statute is that portion of the law dealing with health, safety and welfare issues, in which 45 day letters and 30 response periods could not possibly work. In such situations, time is of the essence.  Accordingly, subsection 21 sets forth a fast-track protocol for declaring the abandonment of a home that poses certain risks to others (such as the abandoned shell of a home destroyed by fire). Below is a summary of what this subsection says:

If a governmental agency determines that the condition of the abandoned  home constitutes an extreme health or safety hazard under state or local law andthe agency determines that the hazard endangers others in the facility andrequires quick removal of the property, the landlord may sell or dispose of it by taking the following steps[2]:

 

· The date by which a tenant, lienholder, personal representative or designated person must contact a landlord to arrange for the disposition of the property shall not be less than 15 days after personal delivery or mailing of the abandonment letter required by ORS 90.675(3);

· The date by which a tenant, lienholder, personal representative or designated person must remove the property must be not less than seven (7) days after the date the tenant, lienholder, personal representative or designated person issues the abandonment letter;

· The contents of the abandonment letter must be in accordance with ORS 90.675(5)except that:

  • The dates and deadlines in the notice must be consistent with the fast-track protocol above;
  • The abandonment letter must state that a governmental agency has determined that the property constitutes an extreme health or safety hazard and must be removed quickly; and
  • The landlord must attach a copy of the agency’s determination to the abandonment letter.

 

 

[1]Note that the MHCO Rental and Lease Agreements dohave a provision for the resident to maintain fire insurance, but it is optional, and applies only if the box is checked.  This situation should be a cautionary tale for owners and managers requiring such insurance, with proof that it is being maintained.

[2]Note: the following steps are exceptions to the rest of ORS 90.675.  This means that if there is no exception in this list, the rest of the statute will apply.

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