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Advice on what to do after a house fire

Discussion in 'Off The Beaten Track' started by JeffClair1979, Aug 20, 2014.

  1. JeffClair1979

    JeffClair1979 Scissoring Cizeron!

    Hi All,

    Just wondering if anyone out in the FSU community has ever had to deal with the aftermath of a house fire? Sunday night at around midnight, my roommate and I discovered that there was a fire in our upstairs neighbor's apartment. We live in a 2 story house built in 1870, so there is only 2 apartments in our dwelling.

    Fortunately, we called 911, and they came quickly and we were able to get the fire put out before it destroyed the house altogether. Our neighbors weren't home, and we were able to get ourselves and our 4 animals out safely (aside from me spraining my ankle when I fell on the wet hardwoods trying to get my most stubborn of fur-babies)...

    While I'm thankful that we got everyone out safely, and the firefighters got everything under control fairly quickly, we now have to deal with extensive water, soot and smoke damage to our apartment and to our stuff. It's my understanding that, since we rent and don't own, that our landlord is on the hook to restore the apartment and put that through his homeowners insurance. Does anyone have any more info on how this works? Any guestimates on how long this kind of restoration takes to finish?

    Before anyone asks, no, we did not have renters insurance. Please do not give me the lecture on this- it's too late to fix that now, but believe me, I will be getting it as soon as we can move back in... It's hard enough knowing that we will end up losing a lot of our belongings without everyone and their mother chastising me for not having renters insurance, even if they do mean well.

    Has anyone had a situation like this before? I could use some words of wisdom on how to get past this, both emotionally and otherwise... This is something that you never think will happen to you, and I'm having kind of a tough time dealing with it... Thanks for any advice you can give.
  2. Karina1974

    Karina1974 Well-Known Member

    I believe it depends upon what state you live in. Different states have different laws/regulations for tenant/landlord responsibilities in situations such as this. Have you looked online for anything regarding tenants rights in your state?
  3. FiveRinger

    FiveRinger Well-Known Member

    I'm sorry that this happened to you and I am glad to hear that you and everyone involved was able to get out safely. I wish you all of the best.
  4. quartz

    quartz Waiting for my egg to boil. Softly.

    I have no experience with fires, but I am so glad you and your pets are safe. (((((Hugs)))).
    I hope you can get everything worked out quickly.
  5. Habs

    Habs Well-Known Member

    Glad to hear you and the pets are safe, but sorry you're dealing with such a traumatic event.

    Honestly, dealing with the aftermath of a fire depends on your location, as well as with specific insurance providers. Yes, the landlord and his/her insurance are on the hook for repairing the dwelling, but the timing is tough to estimate. It also depends on how much structural damage there is. The best thing would be for the landlord to have the insurance company come in ASAP to start the process, and that will give you a better idea of what timelines you're looking at.

    Good luck to you. (((hugs)))
  6. genevieve

    genevieve drinky typo pbp, closet hugger Staff Member

    I'm so sorry this happened to you.

    There was a fire in my building a few years ago, and while my apartment was undamaged, I am on the board of my building and dealt with the aftermath a lot (and spoke frequently with several of the people who were impacted).

    First: thank goodness you and everyone else (including animals!) got out safely. :cheer2: :respec: :cheer:

    Second: Have you contacted emergency services? They should get you into temporary housing for at least a few days and yes they should be able to find you pet-friendly accommodations. I'm guessing you've done this since you're posting a couple of days later.

    Your landlords' insurance will cover the cost of restoring their property. It will not cover anything you personally own. Do you know anything about the cause of the fire? If it was faulty wiring or some sort of negligence, you could initiate a claim against the landlords' insurance. or against the neighbors' insurance, if they are determined to be at fault - unfortunately this only works if they have renters insurance. Initiating a claim as an individual against an insurance company is difficult, time consuming, and not guaranteed to work even if it's really really obvious whose fault the fire was, unfortunately. Insurance companies exist to make it someone else's fault, and they've got the resources to outwait people who are spending their own money. It's maddening.

    The amount of time involved depends on the damage, but the 7 units affected by fire and water damage were uninhabitable for 6-9 months (different levels of damage). The main hold up was insurance companies having to go through subrogation (determining who was at fault) before any work beyond that needed for safety reasons could take place. Only one unit affected had renters (who had no renters' insurance) and they could not wait it out, so they found another place to live. Not sure of the negotiations between them and their landlord, but I'm guessing since the place was uninhabitable through no fault of their own they got out of the lease and got their deposit back with no fuss. ETA: the landlords were not responsible for any compensation re: new housing. Without renters insurance to cover your expenses during restoration, it may be better to find a new place to live - not only financially but emotionally. I still see those renters occasionally, and they were able to bounce back much better than the impacted owners (only 2 of whom had homeowners insurance!).

    hopefully others with more direct experience as renters can chime in with more advice.

    Again: I'm really sorry this happened. And I'm really glad you're still here.
  7. Aceon6

    Aceon6 Hit ball, find ball, hit it again.

    If you can afford it, please contact a fire restoration company like ServPro. They can work wonders in making your clothing useable again. Believe me, a trip to the dry cleaners will not do it. They also do books, wood furniture, and rugs. It's money well spent, even if you have to take out a small loan to do it.
  8. attyfan

    attyfan Well-Known Member

    Thank G-d you and the pets are safe. You might try contacting a local bar association for free legal clinics to find out about your legal rights and remedies -- especially for emergency assistance. There may be a lot of additional requirements on the rebuilding of an 1870 house that will delay things (such as, whether it must conform to current building codes, etc.) that you might want to know about.
  9. genevieve

    genevieve drinky typo pbp, closet hugger Staff Member

    ServPro did our restoration - did a great job!
  10. Louis

    Louis Well-Known Member

    So sorry this happened to you, and so grateful that you and your pets were able to get out unharmed.

    What are you doing for housing in the interim? And how attached are you to this place? Speaking only for myself, I'm not sure I'd want to move back into a place where there was a fire unless I absolutely loved it or had a great deal. Psychologically, I think it would be difficult (for me). I wonder if you might want to ask the landlord to be released from your lease. You get to move on, and the landlord gets to take his or her time rebuilding.

    As others have said, you may have a claim against the landlord or the neighbor for the damage to your belongings, depending on the cause of the fire. I echo what others have said that the process will be long, miserable, contentious, and draining. Depending on the extent of the damage, I wonder if you might make an offer to your landlord to agree to a settlement upfront. E.g., you are released from your lease, reimbursed for temporary housing and reasonable moving expenses, and if the cause of fire was due to negligence of some sort, perhaps a few thousand dollars that allows you to start replacing some of your ruined belongings.

    In general, my bias would be for a simple, quick, and efficient solution that allows you to move on, even if it involves less financial compensation. Best of luck.
  11. smurfy

    smurfy Well-Known Member

    So sorry for your situation.
    My brother and family had a small fire in a bedroom that caused smoke damage through the house.
    The one thing that I remember that really stands out - my sister-in-law who is a very strong person - was really freaked out by the 'cleaners' that touched and cleaned everything in their house, every item in the kitchen and bathroom cabinets, closets etc. She really felt violated - her words.
    Also - if you file a claim against the landlord - document and keep receipts for every expense. The little things can really add up.
    Best of luck and keep us posted.
  12. JeffClair1979

    JeffClair1979 Scissoring Cizeron!

    Thanks for the kind words all :)

    The fire was caused by illegal activity from our neighbors, involving an extension cord, some intense lighting, and the attic- I'll let you put the puzzle together on that one. Just goes to show that even if you're on a friendly basis with your neighbors, you never know exactly what kind of people they are or what kind of things they can be doing...

    I do have a place to stay- my roommate is my best friend and like a sister, and her family and I are very close, so they have extra room and are graciously letting us stay with them as long as we need.
  13. genevieve

    genevieve drinky typo pbp, closet hugger Staff Member

    Agree with everything Louis said.

    ETA: Great news about having a place to stay. Not having to worry about a roof over your head is HUGE.

    ETA2: About the neighbors - even though that seems pretty clear cut, I would expect delays and frustration. Even if the neighbors had renters' insurance (and so few people do - I didn't when I rented, had never even heard of it until a coworker experienced a devastating fire), the subrogration may not go the obvious way and the HO insurance may pay up, at a lesser amount, to get things moving. I would still expect this to be months away.
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2014
  14. JeffClair1979

    JeffClair1979 Scissoring Cizeron!

    We do have the option to move out. Our lease is up at the end of September, and I'm fairly certain at this point that the landlord will not be making us pay the final month. But, I love my apartment and don't WANT to move out. Not sure if I am going to be freaked out about going back there after the place caught fire, though. I will have to cross that bridge when I come to it.
  15. znachki

    znachki Active Member

    That could complicate things. Depending on the landlord's insurance company, they could deny coverage on the basis of the illegal activity (even if it isn't the landlords fault per se).
  16. JeffClair1979

    JeffClair1979 Scissoring Cizeron!

    Well I certainly hope that I don't just lose everything I own because someone who I had no say in the fact lived in my building and burned it down. SOMEONE has to be responsible for this, right?! I definitely need to find a lawyer. I'll be calling my EAP for legal assistance later today. I don't know what else to do at this point...
  17. skatesindreams

    skatesindreams Well-Known Member

    Seconding this!
  18. genevieve

    genevieve drinky typo pbp, closet hugger Staff Member

    Unfortunately, when it comes to things that involve insurance (or lack thereof) the person/persons who cause the damage often are not held accountable.

    Speaking to an attorney is a good idea. Quite frankly, unless the neighbors have renters insurance (or tons of cash and good ethics), there may not be compensation for your possessions.

    ETA: This event is still very fresh for you. For now, I recommend focusing on what wasn't lost. Definitely start making calls for legal support, but also realize that nothing will be resolved anytime soon. Read Louis' post again. I would seriously reconsider moving back to the apartment even if you get that option. As I said, the renters who found a new place to live quickly have completely rebounded, even though they lost things and money. The uninsured owners in my building who came back (because they had to) had a much harder time. Two of them are still struggling to make someone - ANYONE - pay for this horrible thing that was absolutely not their fault, three years after the fact. All insurance claims have been closed and there is no one legally responsible for their losses.
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2014
    skatesindreams likes this.
  19. attyfan

    attyfan Well-Known Member

    If criminal activity is involved, you might investigate whether your state has a Crime Victim's Restitution Fund, and if so, whether you may be eligible for benefits from that fund.
    VALuvsMKwan and skatesindreams like this.
  20. LilJen

    LilJen Reaching out with my hand sensitively

    It would also be worthwhile to find out whether there is a Tenants' Union in your state/city. They can be hugely helpful in clarifying laws & pointing you in the right direction for services/help (including a lawyer with the proper training/experience, if needed).
  21. barbk

    barbk Well-Known Member

    I am glad you're ok, and you got all your furbabies out.
    My folks lost a house to fire; it is really tough. I second the suggestion that you have your stuff that you care about taken care of by a remediation company that specializes in this kind of thing. Toss the rest.

    If your upstairs neighbor has insurance, it probably includes liability coverage, which you could claim against. Otherwise getting $ from them is likely to be a dry hole.

    Can you get someone to photograph everything for you? If the value of your property damaged/destroyed & repair costs in the fire is > 10% of your income, you may have a casualty loss claimable on your taxes. I think you can choose whether to claim it this year (your 2014 return) or last year (2013) even though the fire happened in 2014. The value of stuff lost and the cost to repair quickly, quickly adds up. Depending on your income, you probably have enough to make that count.

    Has the Red Cross or other local group stepped in to help you at all? I'd use any help you can get. Here they give letters and many local merchants (and some national ones) provided discounts for replacement items.

    Call your utilities and have them disconnected and explain why -- some of those charges also got dropped. Credit card companies and banks also had some ability to delay bills that were due.

    The Red Cross was very helpful in getting medication replaced and in helping to figure out how to replace ID from what I heard from someone else who'd been in a fire.

    Some time with your pets may be best of all.

    So very, very sorry you're going through this.
    quartz likes this.
  22. JeffClair1979

    JeffClair1979 Scissoring Cizeron!

    Thanks everyone! Lots of great advice, which I will be taking. I knew I could count on FSU-ers to point me in the right direction. :)
  23. GarrAarghHrumph

    GarrAarghHrumph I can kill you with my brain

    My friends had their building burn down due to a fire started by a homeless person in the alley beside the structure. The Red Cross was very helpful to them. Absolutely contact them.
  24. skatesindreams

    skatesindreams Well-Known Member

    Keep us posted about how you are/your"recovery", please.
    JeffClair1979 and quartz like this.
  25. ArtisticFan

    ArtisticFan Well-Known Member

    Glad you're okay. I agree ServPro is a great company. My aunt's apartment building was partially destroyed. While her unit was okay, it was on the 4th floor and unreachable by those of us in the family. ServPro cleaned and packed all her belongings and brought them to her new home with labels on all the boxes. She would have never been able to move so easily on her own. I believe the landlord paid that bill.

    One of the things we learned helping her was to keep all receipts. If you pay for a new shirt because you can't get in to get your old one, keep the receipt. Much of that can be written off on your taxes.