What do I need to do to fight my landlord/Insurance co for excessive charges to repair my apartment after fire?

FACTS: My apartment caught fire while I was not home in mid Nov 09. The fire was in fact caused by something of mine that my cat was playing with which touched the floor heater while I was gone. I thought that by turning the thermostat all the way to the left, the heater was off, which I always did before leaving. But the thermostat did not have any numbers or words on the unit, and the fire chief told me it does not turn off, just turns down! Although I have warned my landlord in the past the floor Furness is extremely unsafe, and has almost started fires 2 times before, I was prepared for the fact that I would not get my $1200 deposit back, and I would also have to pay out of pocket for some of the repairs. This was a very small fire which caused little damage to the apartment other than the wall that it was next too, small area of the hardwood floor and the smoke damage. I was displaced for the period while the apartment was to be fixed, however once I saw how long it was taking and how cheap and unprofessional my landlord going about the repairs, I decided to start looking for a new place. I gave my 30 day notice, and moved this last weekend. Over the weekend I also received a letter from my landlord’s insurance company stating that I am solely responsible for the damages, and am being charged over $21,000!! It has taken 2.5 months for the apartment to be fixed back up…clean smoke damage from walls, paint, replace 2 single pane windows which fire fighters broke, replace 8×8 area of Pergo floor, patch small wall area (aprox 36″ x 24″) with drywall, replace floor heater with up to date wall unit…Then there is what is left to do…clean or replace hallway carpet (aprox 5′ long hallway), and bedroom carpet (aprox 12’x14′), replace blinds throughout. The work was done very unprofessionally, and I doubt the man who did the repairs is even licensed, because I met him and he didnt even speak English. There is lots of areas which were not completed completely (mostly finishing of the segments where floor goes from on room to the next, and the workers left all the waste from the work they did in the apartment, which I had to move to the back porch. My neighbor told me my landlord asked him to do the repairs and he would pay him under the table or deduct it from his rent. Also my landlord’s girlfriend informed me the apartment was ready to move back in at the beginning of Jan, and that I am being charged rent for Jan, however the apartment is still not ready to move into. I feel that my landlord has taken the $21,000 and then hired someone under the table to do the work, since he originally asked my neighbor to do the work under the table, but he refused because my landlord has still not paid him for a water leak and mold damage that he himself had to repair in his own unit.

HISTORY: My landlord has told me time and time again that he does not want to put any more money into the apartment building (2 duplex’s), when I have requested small repairs (land line phone jack install, kitchen plumbing leak, bathroom faucet leak, unsafe heater unit), and always asked me to fix things myself or find someone to do it cheap and he will either go half with me or deduct a portion of my rent. He is what I see as a slum lord, who has lots of properties in low income areas, and does whatever he can to get as much out of them as he can…He drives a brand new Mercedes, and lives in a new home. He also will tell you whatever you want to hear, just to please you then will not follow through or will follow through with very disappointing results.

MY QUESTION: How do I fight the charges…it is not possible that it cost over $21,000 to do these half a** repairs…I need to know what I should do. Contact an attorney? Call the insurance co and dispute it? I have photos of the damage, and photos of what the repairs look like. I have informed my landlord that the work is not even complete and I only get a response from his very rude girlfriend. I have a feeling my landlord collected this $21,000 and pocketed it, then hired people under the table to do the work.

Please help, I am a single woman and I cannot afford to pay such unfair charges!!!!
Also…I did anticipate paying for the damages, and not getting my $1200 deposit back. I understand i am responsible for my pet if she caused the fire, but I anticipated it costing no more than $5000, which I would have possibly gotten a loan to pay for. $21,000 is excessive for such minimal damage and the qaulity of the the repair work.

Posted in Landlord Tenant Law.

7 Comments

  1. You need a good lawyer. You are responsible for all problems cause by you, your friends, and your pets.

  2. I would ask for receipts. And yes, contact a lawyer – they could at least give you some info over the phone or a free consult… Try Legal Aid in your state if you are of low income. The LL might be responsible for some if the heater or thermostat was not in proper working order according to the safety guidelines of your state (ie numbers/wording not visible).

  3. You should hire an attorney. If you had bought “renters” insurnace, the insurnace company would have helped fight this and they would have paid for any damages.

    Please pass on to your freinds why it is important they buy renters insurnace.

  4. Request a statement or statements of service from your landlord (i.e. receipts of work done). This will prove exactly how much was spent to repair the damage. If you end up in court, your landlord would have to provide these anyway so don’t take “no” for an answer. Did you have renters insurance? If you did, call them as well and let them know what happened.

    But definitely seek legal advice. No doubt, if you refuse to pay, your landlord will likely take you to court.

  5. Yeah are probably responsible for it. If the work was done completely and professionally then I do think it could amount to $21,000 but it just sounds like that is an overstated amount that his insurance company quoted the work out to be. I would definitely get receipts. It’s one thing that he got $21k but if it didn’t cost him $21k then you should only pay for what it actually cost (problem is that could work the opposite way too if the repairs were ligit and over $21k). Get a lawyer who focuses on real estate law.

    This is also a classic case of live and learn. You must get renters insurance which will cover this in the future. It is very cheap, typically $5 to $20 per month respectively.

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