Risk Insider: Robert Rheel

Those Darn Tenant Losses: Causes

By: | May 27, 2015 • 3 min read

Robert Rheel has more than 30 years of insurance industry experience. He was appointed president of Aspen U.S. Insurance in August 2015, prior to which he served as head of U.S. property & casualty insurance and programs and head of customer, distribution and marketing.

If you are a landlord, insure habitational risks, or have the responsibility for placement of insurance, then you know there are many possible scenarios that can cost you money, but the number one loss driver is fire caused by tenants.

There is a long laundry list of crazy and preventable causes for these fires and certainly some scary statistics, especially for those of us with families to protect. But when warnings on everything from space heaters to candles and power cords fail to prevent accidental fires, what can be done to help protect landlords and tenants from potentially severe losses?

This is Part One of a two part series. First, let’s look at some common fire causes on tenant properties. In the next article, I will focus on what we, as an insurance community, can be doing to provide a solution for these inevitable issues.

Candles can be romantic, set the mood or simply just be the cheapest way to provide light, but they are also a common cause of fires by tenants. Tenants frequently forget about their lit candles and leave them unattended.

When warnings on everything from space heaters to candles and power cords fail to prevent accidental fires, what can be done to help protect landlords and tenants from potentially severe losses?

These forgetful tendencies can lead to a very unromantic turn of events when you find yourself standing outside your building with your neighbors watching firemen extinguish a fire that spread through the entire building including your home.

Smoking is another major cause of fires. Many fires are created by tenants who smoke in units that have oxygen tanks or fall asleep with a cigarette still burning. Both of these examples are extremely dangerous and well-publicized, yet remain a leading cause of fires.

Heating and electrical issues are also primary causes of fires by tenants. Every winter, there are tenants who forget to turn off their portable space heaters, both electrical and fuel-based, creating vulnerability to possible dangerous outcomes. And then, unfortunately, some tenants forget to turn off the stove before leaving their unit.

Children playing with fire are yet another obvious, yet quite common, source of dangerous problems. We all hear stories of kids playing with matches or a lighter, without fully comprehending the risks, which can lead to very serious accidents.

The most outlandish story that I have heard is of a tenant setting a cat on fire that ran around the apartment, creating a full-unit fire. Wow.

Clearly, the list of causes for tenant fires can go on and on, from the common causes to the more unconventional. And it seems most of these fires can or should be prevented, controlled, or managed better.

However, it has yet to be determined or made clear who exactly is responsible for these fires. It’s hard to manage a fire (and the losses they cause) without determining who is culpable and pursuing actions to mitigate and prevent future instances.

With all of these fire drivers and losses, what are the landlords and their insurers to do? Stay tuned for Part Two with a proposed solution.

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