Is burning your own building considered arson?

On Behalf of | Oct 18, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

Per Nebraska law, arson refers to the illegal act of setting fire (or causing an explosion that sets fire) to the property of another person. Regardless of the reasons for the fire, all arson offenses are felonies that can lead to steep fines and prison time on conviction.

But what if you set fire to your property? What if you caused a fire in a building under your name while nobody was inside? Would it count as arson?

Burning to defraud your insurer is a different offense

Setting fire to your property isn’t exactly arson under Nebraska law. However, it’s still a crime, especially if you want to cash in on an insurance payout by intentionally damaging your building.

If you cause a fire to erupt in a building or personal property of yours with the intent to deceive your insurer, you can face a charge for burning to defraud insurer, which is a Class 4 felony. For this charge to apply, the building at the time of the offense has to be insured by any person or company against loss or damage by fire. Otherwise, the act could be considered criminal mischief, which is another Class 4 felony for losses worth $5,000 or more.

Penalties on conviction

A conviction for burning to defraud insurer leads to up to two years of imprisonment and twelve months of post-release supervision. A court may also order you to pay as much as $10,000 in fines on conviction.

When is burning your building not a crime?

There is a way for you to lawfully destroy your property if the structure is condemned by law or no longer has value for habitation or business. You must first obtain a permit from the state fire marshal, obtaining their permission to destroy the property. If you’re setting fire to a building for educational purposes (i.e., to train fire departments or to promote a fire safety campaign), you must also obtain the same permit.

If you don’t secure a permit beforehand, you may face charges for burning to defraud your insurer or criminal mischief.

Burning your building without a permit is a crime

To summarize, it’s not arson to set fire to your property – but it’s a separate offense if insurance is involved. If you don’t secure the proper permits beforehand, destroying even a condemned building may lead to criminal charges. Consider your legal options if you face charges because a conviction can lead to imprisonment and costly fines.