I cannot even tell you how many times our firm has consulted individuals and families who have lost everything they own, and been displaced from their rental apartment following a casualty loss such as a fire or water damage. The first question I am always compelled to ask is whether they have property insurance and far more often than not, the answer is “no, it was a rental.” I hate hearing those words, as I know just how much better off my client would be had someone just forced them to get themselves a policy. Someone should have just (figuratively of course)
banged their heads against the wall and given them no choice.
In New York, it is not uncommon for a residential lease to require a certain level of renter’s insurance…although many people still pass on getting a policy. As a result, I am always compelled to just scream from the rooftop…”get a stupid renter’s policy!” For those client’s who retain our firm to assist in reviewing or negotiating their residential lease, we do everything in our power to make sure they take that extra step.
The cost of a simple and typical renters policy is a matter of a three to five hundred dollars a year. Should the worst happen, you would be covered for your personal items, your contents, and you would be covered for additional living expenses and the extra expenses that you would incur if you had to vacate and find a new place to live, whether temporarily or permanently. So imagine the scenario that you live in a rental unit in Manhattan. A neighbor upstairs spends an afternoon at Target, shopping for a toaster, with which to explore the culinary art of making
homemade bagel pizzas.
After three pizza bagels, your neighbor falls asleep on the couch, leaving the toaster on, and allowing the piles of cheese covering the coils to ignite and one last bagel left behind to burst into flames, spreading to the paper towels on the counter and so on. After a matter of minutes, you see your neighbor covered in sauce outside with the rest of your neighbors, aghast at the sight of flames and smoke coming out the window and the fire department soaking his apartment to the point where it is literally pouring rain over everything you own below.
After the smoke clears, your neighbor’s insurance company has given him an advance to purchase some new clothes and has arranged for direct payment to a hotel. After all, he has renters insurance. You have none. You are forced to reach into your bank account to buy some clothes, or borrow some. You either have to bear the cost of a hotel, or crash on a couch.
When you finally hear that the building will be condemned for some time, you realize you will have to move. Your neighbor and his adjusters inventory his personal items and work to finalize their claim. You wonder where you are going to get the money to replace everything you owned. Your neighbor gets their payment and they begin replacing everything for their new apartment. You haven’t gotten a new place yet because you spent your spare cash on a new
laptop for work and don’t have the money for the extra security deposit. Within a matter of months, your neighbor can finally put the saga behind him. Yours is still just beginning, and worst of all, he is the idiot who didn’t shut off his toaster.
While you do have recourse against your neighbor for being negligent, his insurance will cover any liability he has. That does not mean however that his insurance company is going to bend down and bow to your claim. His insurance company will fight you, and his insurance company will only pay if YOU can establish your neighbor’s liability. While in this instance, liability would likely be strong, assuming the fire department determined the correct cause of the fire. There is hope, in that a skilled property insurance attorney will either settle or litigate the claim, and at the end of the day obtain a recovery based upon the actual cash value of your property. The reality is though, that n a third party claim you are only entitled to actual cash value and not replacement value, which you may have been entitled to if you had your own coverage.
Yes, that means everything you own, with the exception of the Renoir and Van Gogh originals for example, has depreciated, often to the extent that you would simply lose your lunch.You are actually a lucky one. Sometimes there really is no one to blame though. Accidents do happen and sometimes there is really no one who is “responsible”. The causes of certain fires are often never truly ascertained, and the investigation often is concluded once there is determination that it was accidental, and the outcome was that the fire was, for example,“electrical.” The harsh reality is that if you cant prove negligence then you may be entirely out of luck, financially devastated, and telling yourself that you just wished someone forced you to get some renter’s coverage.
As property damage litigation attorneys, we have a great track record of success in terms of our representation of uninsured tenants and securing a level of relief. While we cherish the opportunity to help our clients through their toughest times, we would prefer to help navigate them through an insurance claim, and would be happy to bang heads against the wall if that is the difference between obtaining a renter’s policy or not.