Are Property Owners or Renters Responsible for Reducing Risk of Wildfire? Short Answer: Both


By Kevin McKechnie

As mountain communities continue to learn about wildfire risk and prevention, new questions arise daily around responsibility, best practices, and strategic management. Perhaps most important on this list: Who bears the responsibility of defensible space management and wildfire prevention on properties? Ultimately, wildfire resilience is a community effort, thus residents and property owners alike need to take responsibility for creating and maintaining defensible space.

It’s a fair question, especially since land ownership is spread among public and private entities and homes are occupied by both property owners and renters. As a 22-year firefighter, my experience tells me that it takes all of us to maintain properties in order to prevent wildfire. A collective effort that involves personal initiative as well as professional resources and support creates the ideal outcomes for the community as a whole. And this is why Truckee Fire provides comprehensive and flexible tools and services that Measure T funding has provided to our community.

According to California Public Resources Code Section 4291, “A person who owns, leases, controls, operates, or maintains a building or structure in, upon, or adjoining a mountainous area, forest-covered lands, brush-covered lands, grass-covered lands, or land that is covered with flammable material,” is responsible for a litany of critical land management measures.


While this language is vague, it puts some responsibility on both the landowner and the lessee/renter. There is specific language that creates different interpretations based on how each individual renter agreement and insurance policy is written. It is worth noting then that there is not any single blanket answer to the question: Is the renter or the homeowner responsible for fire prevention? Like with all things, a collaborative solution is ideal. Among the responsibilities laid out in this code are maintaining defensible space around all structures and property lines.

ACTION REQUIRED: A Truckee-specific example from a Fire Aside defensible space inspection report, showing potential combustible materials that should be removed. Fire Aside is a software platform that helps communities adapt to wildfire. Courtesy photos

Truckee Fire is one of many jurisdictions providing tools to any resident who is motivated to be a part of the solution. Truckee is unique in that the town and its voters passed a critical special tax in 2021 — at the height of the Caldor Fire, see Remembering Kindness During Crisis: My Caldor Fire Experience — to fund a global wildfire fire prevention toolkit. Included in this are several incredible resources the district provides to renters and property owners alike to help keep all of us safe, insured, and supported as we work to be responsible community members in an ever-increasing wildfire prone region. It has led to the comprehensive Community Wildfire Prevention Plan as well as an annual grants program that funds select community efforts to enhance fire safety across the district.

First and foremost, Truckee renters and property owners can and should schedule a free defensible space assessment through The site provides several helpful resources and checklists, most outstanding among them is the ability to schedule a custom inspection of their property. This helpful report provided through our partners at Fire Aside gives recipients a clear list of tasks and priorities to ensure their property is adequately protected and a healthy defensible space is created. A follow-up visit can also be done to provide an improved rating. This tool is available to both renters and homeowners.

Additionally, all Truckee renters and homeowners can schedule a free curbside green waste pickup at Once debris is cleared and piled on the property’s front curb (NOT in bags), our crews will remove the waste at no additional cost. If homeowners have already done this work and paid for a dumpster for removal of green waste, we will rebate the cost to incentivize homeowners to continue to do this important task. This service is also available to renters.

As of the end of June, Truckee Fire has honored 128 dumpster rebates, picked up 406 curbside piles, and completed 1,548 defensible space inspections (the goal this year is to complete 5,000.) This is outstanding progress toward our collective goal of making Truckee a more fire-safe place to live and play.

Should renters take the initiative to manage and control any of these critical efforts, we recommend they alert the property owner to the work that needs to be done before they complete the bulk of the labor. Perhaps the landscaping work could even be seen as worthy of a discount on one’s rent if the homeowner understands the severity of work and effort involved in the process. Those conversations are always best to have early and often, and no renter should expect a discount. We are not at liberty to make recommendations or rules for homeowners and those who choose to rent their homes.

Of course, our region welcomes droves of visitors every year — and throughout the duration of fire season which usually lasts from May through November. It is everyone’s responsibility to adhere to the burn ban. In other words, no campfires or charcoal barbecues are allowed in much of our region, including backyard fire pits or grills. This year’s burn ban went into effect Monday, June 26, and will remain in effect until fire season is officially over — and there is no firm date for the end. There are very few exceptions, including in designated public and private campsites. Full details are also available online at These rules are increasingly more stringent nationwide and have proven to be effective ways to prevent human-caused fires, which account for 90% of wildfires.

Each community has different requirements and resources available to them. While Truckee Fire’s services are generous and extensive, we encourage you to explore the resources provided by your local fire department and community service providers.

~ Kevin McKechnie is Truckee Fire Protection District fire chief.


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  1. I respect the author’s outlook on striving for a collaborative effort when maintaining a safe community, and I especially appreciate the mention that the property owner *may* compensate the renter (should the landlord be open to it) for any labor provided on the property owner’s behalf.

    But let’s be honest here. Renters are paying homeowners (in most cases these are investment properties or part time vacation homes) to live there. To expect a renter to do regular maintenance on someone else’s investment property for free is exploitative at best and dystopian at worst. Renters are not free labor, nor should we ask a population that cannot afford to buy a home to subsidize this landscaping labor to those who can afford multiple homes. Many places in Truckee/Tahoe are seasonal leases – so the expectation posited by the author is that a summer renter is to be potentially responsible and “pitch in” for community safety, only to be asked to move out and find somewhere else to live when ski leases increase rent 4x for the season. We are constantly squeezing renters out of available places to live and now the expectation is to “chip in” to maintain someone else’s property?

    As a long term renter, and someone who does negotiates work-trade (money off rent for labor services conducted at the property), just compensation is the only way any renter should be expected to do any labor on someone else’s property – a point the author does try and make. I do agree, it takes a community to come together to ensure mountain life is safe for us all, but let’s not set the expectation that those with less means should be carrying the same weight as those with more. After all, whose investment is it that would be lost in a fire?