Austin

Cigarettes cause many fires in Austin but victims have little recourse

AUSTIN (KXAN) -- A careless smoker who didn't properly put out their cigarette started a fire that destroyed homes and possessions for more than 30 people in a south Austin Wednesday afternoon, officials say. 

The person who accidentally caused more than a million dollars worth of damage likely won't ever face consequences. 

"Real people paid a real price," said Austin Fire Department Division Chief Palmer Buck. Buck says people smoking on their porch is one of the top reasons fires start in Austin. In 2017, 176 fires started that way.

Buck says more people are smoking outside—without ashtrays. When a fire is started by a cigarette, there is not much recourse for the victims. He says only about one in five people has renters insurance.

"There's not anyone you can go to and say 'Hey, you owe me for the stuff I lost.' You're just out that stuff unless you've taken that step to get renters insurance," Buck said.

Current law considers cigarette fires accidental, so lawsuits rarely happen. Juliana Gonzales from the Austin Tenants Council says insurance is pretty much the only way renters can prepare. 

"This is a terrible situation right. And the landlord is under no obligation to start repairing the property or renovating the property before they get their insurance settlement. So in situations like these, we see either the landlords or the tenants terminate the lease," Gonzales explained.

If you smoke, the Austin Fire Department asks you to use an ashtray or a metal can to put your butts out, not on the ground. 

If your apartment is ever too damaged to live in, Austin Tenants Council recommends reaching out to the landlord to get something on paper about leaving the lease agreement. 


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