How to deal with looting and mismanagement after an apartment fire?
February 17, 2011 7:14 AM   Subscribe

A large group of friends recently lost nearly everything they owned in a devastating apartment fire last month. Since then, the building - and their lives - have sat in limbo while looters have been free to ransack the building at their leisure. What options, legal and otherwise, do my friends have to hold somebody accountable for this gross mismanagement?

The full story: An incredibly huge and terrifying fire destroyed most of the top two floors of this building over a month ago. After a lengthy investigation, the cause of the fire was the declared unknown, and the demolition of the building was ordered by Philadelphia's Department of Licensing and Inspection.

The building was sealed, surrounded by a fence, and guarded at random times by either police, private security, or no one at all. Communication with displaced residents has been minimal at best, and no one has been allowed into the building to retrieve things easily visible through ground floor windows.

Demolition was scheduled for Valentine's Day, but after sightings of live cats in the building's windows and intensive telephone campaigns directed at the mayor's office it is on hold temporarily, and good thing too: Workers entering the building have reported that nearly every apartment has been thoroughly worked over by looters, with drawers dumped out onto the floor, lockboxes pried open, and even registered firearms missing from their cases.

On Tuesday residents were given an opportunity to retrieve things by - oddly - describing what they expected to find to employees of the landlord who would then go in and collect up to two garbage bags of random stuff. My friends got back old belts and other junk. Important documents, files, jewelry, and other valuables were conspicuously missing.

So, my question is, where do we go from here? My friends and I are outraged over how, essentially, the city held the building in trust for looters for over a month while specifically forbidding tenants entry. We believe that the city, the Department of Licensing and Inspection, the police department, and the buildings owners should be held responsible in some way. But how to go about this? What are our options from here?

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posted by deafmute to Law & Government (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd say the residents should demand a meeting with their elected officials for the city with appropriate parties from the departments thought responsible there.
posted by zizzle at 7:18 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Did none of them have renters insurance? I'd think having a large insurance company's lawyers backing you up when you approach the officials would be a pretty good thing to have.
posted by Grither at 7:23 AM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: @grither: some did, some didn't, and those that did had it from different companies and have been fighting those companies to pay up. The idea is worth looking into, however.
posted by deafmute at 7:28 AM on February 17, 2011

Yep, per Grither above, I'd be looking to communicate with the other residents and find out how many insurance and with what company(ies). If you're lucky there will be a good majority with the same company and that company will have enough incentive to put legal pressure on the city.
posted by de void at 7:29 AM on February 17, 2011

Lawyer. Last week if not sooner.
posted by gracedissolved at 8:06 AM on February 17, 2011

The two edged sword of lawyer and media.
posted by AugustWest at 8:16 AM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

They should keep working with Jannie L. Blackwell who seems to be their only advocate right now.
posted by fixedgear at 8:28 AM on February 17, 2011
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posted by cashman at 9:25 AM on February 17, 2011

maybe contact PW and CP, see if they can run a feature?
posted by angrycat at 12:11 PM on February 17, 2011

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