Here’s why it is important to have renter’s insurance

Q. I live in an apartment. I pay my rent on time and I am a good tenant. Recently, a small fire from the next-door unit burned part of my apartment and damaged my property. The apartment owner says he is not responsible for the damage to my property. What can I do? I do not have renter’s insurance.

A. The apartment owner is probably correct. Simply because there was a fire in one of the owner’s apartments does not mean the owner is legally responsible for the damage to your apartment. Basically, for the owner to be responsible it will be necessary for you to show some “fault” on his part. In most cases, the basis for this “fault” is negligence. Under the law of negligence, an apartment owner must take reasonable steps to maintain the apartment and must act reasonably to remedy any problem. If he does not, and your property is damaged as a result, he could be liable. For example, if there was a problem with the electrical wiring in the next-door apartment and the owner did not properly repair it, the owner could be liable if a fire resulted and damaged your apartment. On the other hand, if the fire were caused by an accident outside of the control of the owner, or due to the negligence or carelessness of the tenant in that apartment, the owner would have no responsibility. The first thing you need to do is find out what caused the fire.

Unfortunately, you have learned too late the value of renter’s insurance. In many cases, no one is responsible when something goes wrong. Just as a homeowner should have homeowner’s insurance, an automobile owner should have automobile insurance, a renter should have renter’s insurance to protect against situations such as this one.


Q. Who is liable for golf ball damage to auto when driving near a golf course?

A. For anyone to be liable, they must be “negligent.” In other words, they did not act as a reasonable person would in the same circumstances. For example, the golf course could be responsible if it did not have sufficient protection for passing cars. If every similar course had a 20-foot fence, and it had no fence or a 10-foot fence, it could be considered negligent, and responsible for damage caused by a golf ball. The golfer could also be responsible if he or she did not act reasonable. For example, if the golfer had hit the ball in the street before, and did not take responsible steps to aim the ball away from the road, the golfer could be considered negligent.

In many case, however, no one may be responsible because it was simply an accident. If this was just an accident — the golfer and the golf course both acted reasonably — neither would be liable and you would have to pay for the damage. This is why it is so important we all have full-coverage automobile insurance.


Q. I have lived in the same apartment for six years. I am a good tenant and always pay my rent on time. Can my landlord just refuse to renew my lease with no explanation? I have been told he doesn’t like me.

A. As a general rule, either the landlord or the tenant can choose not to renew a lease with no explanation. For example, if you wanted to move, you could just tell the landlord, “I’m not renewing my lease.” If he asked why, you could say “none of your business.” Similarly, the landlord can decide not to renew your lease and require you to move. There is nothing stopping a landlord from not renewing a lease because “he doesn’t like” the tenant. A landlord, however, cannot refuse to renew a lease based on race, sex, age or religion. This would be unlawful discrimination.


Q. I tried to buy something and the clerk said they accept only cash or a credit card. Is it legal for a store to refuse to accept a check? I thought a check was just like cash?

A. When you buy something at a store, you are entering into a contract. You and the store determine the terms of that contract. If the store wants to accept only cash or a credit card, it may do so. In fact, the only “legal tender” is cash. Of course, you can offer to pay by a check and see if the store accepts your proposal. If it does not, your choice is to deal on the store’s terms, or shop elsewhere.


Q. In 2013, my ex-husband was ordered to pay child support. He has since changed jobs and is making much more. Shouldn’t he be paying more?

A. He probably should be paying more for child support, but until you get the order modified, he has the legal right to keep paying as originally ordered. Either party may go back to court to have a child support order modified whenever there is a substantial change in circumstances. I suggest you speak with a family law attorney.