In the event of a fire, a landlord’s property insurance will not cover damages to a tenant’s property, except in rare cases. It is advisable for tenants to purchase renter’s insurance to guard against damage to their possessions. Every home-owner’s insurance policy in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts which insures multi-unit residential property (except for some school dormitories) against loss or damage by fire must provide a benefit of up to $750 (without the deductible) for each rental unit, to cover the actual costs of relocation of any tenant or lawful occupant displaced by fire or for damage resulting from fire. These funds will reimburse a tenant for some out-of-pocket expenses incurred as a result of the fire.54
The landlord of any residential or commercial property, upon the written request of any tenant or lawful occupant, or of any code or other law enforcement official or of any official of the municipality in which the property is situated, shall disclose in writing within fifteen days of such request the name of the company insuring the property against loss or damage by fire and the amount of insurance provided by each such company and the name of any person who would receive payment for a loss covered by such insurance.
The landlord of the property is required to notify each tenant or lawful occupant in writing of the benefits payable under this clause at the beginning of the lease or tenancy period. This requirement cannot be waived, and violations of the provisions of this section are punishable by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars.55
Insured tenants and landlords should document their possessions. Dated receipts, photographs and videotapes are excellent ways of documenting possessions.
A representative from the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services is called to every fire that displaces residents in the City of Boston. The representative will coordinate city services and resources to help fire victims obtain immediate shelter and will direct them to area housing agencies that can assist them in finding more permanent housing.
The Mayor’s Office representative will be in close contact with the Inspectional Services Department’s Building and Housing Divisions regarding the fire. A building inspector can help determine whether the building is stable and write an unsafe and dangerous violation that requires corrective action be started within 24 hours if necessary. The Building Department receives a printed notice of every fire, which includes an estimate of the amount of damage incurred. The housing inspector can determine whether the property is fit for human habitation. Depending on the extent of the damages, the building inspector can require repair work to commence within 24-hours or 30 days. Once work has begun, as long as it is progressing, there is no specific time frame for completion. A building must be inspected prior to re-occupation.
The site must be secured within 24 hours. The Inspectional Services Department can help in securing the site, which might include boarding up windows and entrances and cleaning up dangerous debris.
As soon as possible after a fire, both tenant and landlord should obtain a copy of the fire report prepared by the Boston Fire Department. Landlords and tenants will need this document for insurance claims and if they need to search for new housing. Displacement by fire is a ground for priority one status for applicants for Section 8 and project or development-based subsidized housing.
Independent insurance adjusters will often be found at the site of a fire offering their services to both landlord and tenant. Insurance adjusters can provide valuable services such as assistance in the preparation and filing of insurance claims, but there is a charge for these services, which is often based upon a percentage of the total claim paid. It is important to shop around for a trustworthy and reasonably-priced insurance adjuster, and to get a signed contract.
55. G.L.c.175, §99
56. G.L.c.186, §21