Renter causing fire could be held responsible for the entire building

Q. I recently had a small fire in my apartment. I think it was caused by the new clothes dryer I had installed. The landlord collected for the damage to his building from his insurance company. Now the insurance company is coming after me for $60,000 because of a clause in my lease. This fire was not my fault. How can I be sued?

A. The insurance company has the right to sue you because after it paid your landlord, it gets his rights against you. Your lease contained a clause basically stating you were responsible for any damage caused by “conduct by you or your invitees, guests or occupants; or any other cause not due to [the landlord’s] negligence or fault.” In other words, unless it was the landlord’s fault, you are responsible. The Texas Supreme Court recently upheld the validity of this type of clause, holding it to be valid and enforceable.

The bottom line for a tenant is that it is now more important than ever to have renter’s insurance, protecting you in the event that you are found responsible for damage to the landlord’s property. In the event there is an accidental fire in your apartment caused by you, your guest, or anyone else, you could be responsible for the cost of repairing the entire building.

Q. How do I get a copy of my credit report? How much should it cost?

A. Under federal law, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus once a year. I suggest you stagger your requests, and get one every four months. This way you will always get current information.

To obtain information about your free report, call (877) 322-8228, or visit Be careful about other websites that advertise a “free credit report.” They can end up costing you money and being anything but free.


Q. How do you get collection agencies to stop calling for really old debts? They keep calling about a 10-year-old debt.

A. As I have said before, even if a debt is 10 years old, you still owe it and a collector can ask you to pay. After seven years, however, it should no longer appear on your credit report, and after four years, it is too late to sue. In other words, you still have a moral obligation to pay old debts, but you cannot be legally forced to pay. If you have decided that you are not going to pay the debt, federal law allows you to stop all further communication by sending a certified letter to the debt collector demanding it stop. To learn more about our debt collection laws, visit the debt collection section on my website,