What is the tenant?

A tenant is therefore the person who in return for remuneration (rent) receives the use of a building or part of a building belonging to a third party. The lessee is contractually responsible vis-à-vis the lessor for damage caused to the leased property, on the basis of articles 1732, 1733 and 1735 of the Civil Code. He therefore has an insurance interest consisting in preserving his assets against a liability debt. In addition, the tenant also has an extra-contractual liability vis-à-vis third parties (art. 1382 and following of the Civil Code), by which means a debt vis-à-vis other people living or not in his household.

Note that the tenant is presumed responsible for any damage to the rented property.

Article 1732 of the Civil Code creates a presumption of liability on the tenant for damage and losses that occur during the rental period. This means that, in order to be exempt from liability, the tenant must himself prove that the damage occurred without his fault. If he is able to prove that he does not have his share of responsibility for the damage caused to the property of the lessor, then his liability will not be engaged.

Its responsibility is general. It is therefore not limited to insurable damage! All damage and loss are not insured, which is why owners protect themselves against recourse to the tenant.

What is the difference between a tenant and an occupant?

The occupant is the person who benefits free of charge from the use of a building or part of a building belonging to a third party.

Article 1302 of the Civil Code regulates the contractual liability of the occupant. This article provides for an obligation to return: at the end of use, the occupant must return the property in the condition in which it was received. He therefore also has an insurable interest in the maintenance of the thing. In the event of loss or possible damage, the occupant is therefore contractually liable. He therefore has an interest in preserving his assets against a fire insurance debt. However, if he proves that these losses or damage occurred without his fault, he discharges himself from his responsibility. The value of the insurance interest of any liable person is limited to the actual value.

What is the tenant's responsibility in the event of a fire?

The tenant is responsible in the event of a fire. Article 1733 C.Civ. is based on the same principle as article 1732 Civil C., but deals in particular with damage caused by fire.

Here too, the tenant’s liability is presumed. The tenant can be exonerated from his responsibility by proving the foreign cause (cf. 4.1.5). It is therefore also responsible when the cause is unknown.

The tenant is responsible for damages caused by the people of the house and the subtenants

Article 1735 C.Civ. expands the tenant’s liability. The tenant is also responsible for damage caused by:

the people of his household. This concept must be interpreted broadly. These are in particular the spouse, cohabiting children, staff, foreigners to whom they grant access to their home (other partner, cohabiting partner, etc.);
its subtenants. The sub-tenant in turn has the same responsibility towards the principal tenant as the latter towards the owner-lessor. He must therefore ensure his responsibility in the same way as the main tenant. Examples of cases for which a tenant can be held responsible:
a woman sets fire to the house after a violent argument with her husband;
damage caused by people in the service, even occasional, of the tenant (suppliers, movers, workers, etc.).

Exemption from the tenant's liability with proof of a foreign cause

The tenant will be able to exempt himself from the presumption of responsibility by proving the foreign cause:

Fortuitous event or force majeure. Examples: fall of lightning, storm of exceptional magnitude.
Third party fault. Examples: the fire starts in a neighboring building and extends to the rented property or intentional act of a third party (act of vandalism).
Fault of the victim (= owner). Examples: building defect (as a construction defect) and poor maintenance by the owner (in application of article 1721 Civil C. which determines the owner’s liability). Please note: an apparent defect (not hidden) in the building may entail contractual liability for the tenant, if this defect has been accepted by him.
Examples : a clearly visible construction defect, such as a faulty electrical installation, the tenant does not react…;