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Fired Up Tenant Loses
by Ron Davis

Arson at a California shopping center has required the center’s owner to defend against a tenant’s somewhat vague charges of negligence.

The shopping center is Valley Plaza in Modesto, and the fire that resulted in the arson charge occurred in the premises of a nightclub that operated at the center. An investigation by the local fire department disclosed that gasoline was the fire’s accelerant and that the fire therefore was intentionally set.

The fire resulted in damages to the premises leased to other tenants. One of those tenants operated a pool hall, and although the center’s owner paid for repairs to those premises, the tenant later contended that those repairs were inadequate. Specifically, the tenant said, he sustained floor and pool-table damage that was not properly restored. As a result, he added, he was unable to operate the pool hall for about 33 days after the fire.

The center’s owner answered those charges by pointing out that he was not responsible for the fire or for the tenant’s claimed damages. The owner also explained that the tenant was required by the lease to properly insure his premises—but did not do so. Finally, the owner said, the tenant’s lease stated that the tenant is responsible for his damaged property or loss income.

The owner added, “I did not cause the fire. I was not even in Modesto [at the time of the fire]. I am unaware of how I could have prevented an arson fire.” A California court ruled in favor of the center’s owner, concluding that he presented undisputed facts that “he has no liability for the negligence alleged in the complaint.” The tenant appealed that ruling.

A California appellate court agreed with the lower court, explaining that the tenant complained that the center’s owner was negligent by failing to inspect the leasehold premises, properly maintain and repair those premises, warn of the dangers in the premises, and control individuals on the premises, ‘which resulted in the fire that occurred.’ Added the judge, “The fire investigator…concluded that ‘there is simply no other explanation for this fire other than arson.’ A person may not recover damages based upon the violation of a criminal [law] unless he or she is one of the class of persons for whose benefit the [law] was enacted…. Here, too, there are no express claims of error, no articulated arguments, no citations to the record, and no references to supporting cases or legal authorities. The challenge to [the lower court ruling] must be deemed waived or abandoned.” (Diaz v. Lee, 2008 WL 3974182 [Cal.App. 5 Dist.])

Decision: September 2008
Published: October 2008



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