Tenants must pay over $500K after apartment fire began in unit kept in 'near-hoarding state': judge

Firefighters tackle the blaze at the Langara Gardens complex on Nov. 14, 2017.  (Submitted by Vickie Lessoway - image credit)
Firefighters tackle the blaze at the Langara Gardens complex on Nov. 14, 2017. (Submitted by Vickie Lessoway - image credit)

Two Vancouver tenants have been ordered to pay over $500,000 for a 2017 fire that broke out in their apartment and spread to several other units in their building.

In a ruling released Thursday, a B.C. Supreme Court judge found tenant Angela Chou was negligent in allowing the fire to start due to keeping "a large amount of household possessions packed densely throughout the unit."

Chou and her former partner Danny Chen must pay $512,995.04 to the owner of the Langara Gardens complex for damages caused.

Chen no longer lived in the apartment at the time, but was still listed as one of the co-tenants in the unit.

Chou must pay Langara an additional $56,000.45 for the loss of rent that resulted from damage to neighbouring units.

A fire investigator testified the fire was started when the light bulb from a halogen lamp in the unit's living room made contact with another item, "likely a box or a pillow case," while Chou was momentarily out of the room.

Although Chou made an attempt to put out the fire with water, it spread quickly due to densely packed and stacked items.

"I am satisfied Ms. Chou created an objectively foreseeable and unreasonable risk of harm — and risk of fire in particular — to Langara and the other tenants by keeping her apartment in a near-hoarding state," says Justice Matthew Kirchner's ruling.

"The densely packed and stacked combustible material presents a clear fire hazard that could be set off by something as simple as the halogen lamp, which burns very hot."

The ruling also notes Chou did not have insurance at the time of the fire, despite it being a requirement in their tenancy agreement.

Reminder of tenants' liability

Lawyer and tenant advocate Robert Patterson says this case serves as a reminder of the liability that tenants have.

"That can lead to pretty large costs," said Patterson, who works with the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre.

Patterson says tenants should always exercise "reasonable diligence" by ensuring they are not creating fire hazards and reporting any issues in their home to the owner.

He recommends tenants consider purchasing tenancy insurance.

"It may not be your property, but you are responsible for damage that's caused to it by your actions or your neglect. And for that reason it's important to be diligent."

Patterson said this judgement also shows that co-tenants may share liability for each others actions, even if they are not present in the home.

"Just because you moved out, if your name's still on the agreement you can be liable for what happens there."

He says tenants who move residence and don't want this liability should ask the landlord to remove their name from the tenancy agreement or consider ending the tenancy on their own.