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Court rejects suit by landlord against tenant and child for damages caused by fire

When the Elkins' son, Steve, negligently caused a fire in their rented home, the landlord sued the Elkins and Steve for damages.  They argued that tenants can be liable for property damage to the landlord's estate and that in any event, Steve wasn't a "tenant" and therefore was subject to liability.  Most likely the landlord was pursuing the Elkins' renter's insurance policy.

In any event, the trial judge relied on prior Michigan law to hold that a tenant is not responsible for damage to the premises caused by negligence.  The Court of Appeals affirmed this decision, pointing out that the lease did not "uneqivocally" waive Michigan's common law tenant immunity.   

The landlord went on to cite recent decisions that refused to grant tenant protections to unnamed occupants of a rental property, and argued on appeal that since Steven wasn't named as a tenant, he was not entitled to immunity from suit. The Court of Appeals held that as the tenants and landlord had the same mutual expectation of Steven's occupancy of the property, he should be deemed a tenant and enjoy immunity from suit.

This seems like the right result, but is it overly cynical to point out that Judge Saad stretched the rights of an occupant to protected "tenant" status, only in the situation where it benefitted the tenant's insurer?

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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