Fire damaged my flat, what can I do?

Melanie asks:
(updated on Thursday, May 13th 2010)

I lived in a building of 4 flats, there was a fire in the flat below mine. It started in the hot water cupboard. The people lost all their belongings. In the flat that I lived in, it got a lot of smoke damage coming up from the flat below. The real estate agent asked us to move out and stop paying rent so the flat could be cleaned. I have found other accomodation, but the agent says we might have to move back in after the cleaning has been done. I do not want to move back in as I feel unsafe. Also I was moving out in November. If I have to move back in it means that I have had to move out, clear my belongings out and then move back in for about 4 to 6 weeks then move out again. We have a contract till the end of November, but I want out if this contract. What advice can you give me?

Our Experts Answer:

In situations where premises are destroyed (through no breach of the landlord or tenant), or are so seriously damaged that they are deemed uninhabitable, the rent would abate at that point, and either party may give notice to terminate the tenancy. The notice periods required to be given in these situations by a landlord would be a minimum of 7 days’ notice and by a tenant would be required to give a minimum of 2 days notice in writing. Because this is written notice, parties should keep a copy for themselves, and must allow time for serving the notice on the other party. If the letter is handed to the other party, the notice period will start immediately. However, if the notice is dropped in the other party’s letterbox you must allow an extra two working days, and if it is posted to the other party you must allow four working days.

Where the premises are only partially destroyed (through no breach of the landlord or tenant), or part of the premises is so seriously damaged as to be uninhabitable, the rent would also abate at that point, and either party may apply to the Tenancy Tribunal to seek termination of the tenancy. The Tenancy Tribunal’s decision whether or not to terminate the tenancy would depend on the circumstances, and will also take into consideration any agreement previously reached by both parties. I suggest that you begin by discussing your situation with your landlord.

A fixed term tenancy can be ended by mutual agreement, with the conditions of early termination being agreed by the parties. Your landlord may be willing to discuss ending your tenancy early in the circumstances. You may also be able to assign or sublet your tenancy, depending on the terms of your tenancy agreement. Your ongoing responsibility for the rent and other costs you may incur in assigning or subletting your tenancy will depend on the terms of your tenancy agreement and the agreement reached by you and your landlord.

To discuss your situation further, you can contact the Department of Building and Housing on 0800 TENANCY (0800 836 262).

The Department of Building and Housing provides information and guidance on building law and compliance, services including weathertight homes, and advice for tenants and landlords.


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