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December 20, 2010

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Landlord ordered to pay family

A LANDLORD has been ordered to pay more than 150,000 yuan (US$22,523) in compensation to the family of a tenant who died in a fire at a property he owned, although the cause of the fire is still unclear.

The Qingpu District People's Court judged that the landlord, surnamed Wang, should bear part of the responsibility because he used wooden chipboard to decorate the house, which allowed the fire to spread rapidly, and installed security bars outside the window of the tenant's room, which blocked an escape route.

The tenant, surnamed Zhao, a migrant worker from Hunan Province, rented a room in the mezzanine between the second and the third floors of Wang's house last year.

In the early hours of September 8, 2009, a fire broke out between the first and the second floors in the house and quickly spread to Zhao's room. Zhao, who didn't have time to escape, was killed in the fire.

The fire control department was unable to find the exact cause of the fire after an investigation. The department only confirmed the fire wasn't caused by an electric fault or carelessness in using electric heaters.

Officials said that they could not rule out the possibility of arson.

Zhao's family sued Wang, and sought compensation of more than 770,000 yuan.

The plaintiffs said Wang used wood chipboards in the house and piled flammable items in the stairwells, which allowed the fire to spread rapidly.

The landlord had also installed security bars outside the window of Zhao's room and the door of the room faced the stairwell, which was consumed by fire. As a result, Zhao couldn't escape, the plaintiffs claim.

The landlord claimed innocence, however. He said he had also suffered a huge loss since his house had been destroyed. He also claimed that the wood wasn't the direct cause of Zhao's death and that Zhao didn't try hard enough to break through the security bars, as the tenant who lived in the next room did and was able to escape the fire.

Wang said there was also the possibility that someone had started the fire deliberately.

The court ruled that Wang was at fault when it came to the reasons for the fire spreading so rapidly, but he shouldn't take all the responsibility. Therefore he was ordered to pay 154,000 yuan to the plaintiffs.


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