Apartment flood. What next?
August 9, 2011 10:08 AM   Subscribe

My apartment flooded last night due to the unattended over-flowing toilet of the neighbor upstairs. Stuff is ruined and gross. I already called my rental insurance agent. Now what? In Brooklyn, NY.

At 3 am this morning, I was awoken by a knock on my door from my neighbor downstairs because their apartment was flooding. But theirs was flooding because ours was flooding! Because the neighbors’ upstairs was flooding! Anyway, after trying to knock on the upstairs neighbors’ door to wake them (unsuccessful) and trying to call our super (unsuccessful) we called 311 (in NYC) and they sent the fire department over to get the upstairs neighbors’ attention. They awoke and pretty much were just like “oops, our toilet’s been overflowing, sorry” and turned off the water.

Things I have done:

Called the 24-hour State Farm rental insurance line, with whom I have a policy, and made a claim. They said to not throw anything away yet until they decide whether or not to send an adjuster to assess damage. I am still waiting to hear from them today.

We took pictures of the water everywhere and the shower of water coming from the ceiling and have saved those.

We will be getting an incident report from the fire department.

Our super showed up this morning and wet-vac’ed the water from the floor (almost an inch of water! Everywhere!)

Major problems:

Our space is a loft space and all of our storage is directly under where the majority of the leaking occurred. A lot of these things are likely to be ruined. The untreated wood used to build the storage areas is possibly damaged. The water (shitty-overflowing-toilet water, gross) also leaked into our kitchen cabinets and have possibly ruined those.

What can I do here?

My first concern is cleaning all this up. I pretty much want everything in storage to be thrown out. I would like if there were a service that could come and do this for me as it will require climbing a ladder and squeezing into a three-foot-tall space in the dark to take care of. It would be great if this service would also clean the areas affected. BUT I hope to be able to make this part of my insurance claim, because I most likely can’t afford such a service on my own—due to present circumstances, my income is currently below poverty line. Does anyone have a similar experience? Also, if it is possible to get someone to do this service, do you have any recommendations in the Brooklyn/NYC area?

Other than cleaning, what bases do I need to have covered that I don’t already?
Are the landlords liable in any way?
Are the upstairs neighbors liable in any way?

My main goals are to get the place cleaned up and get repairs made in the ceiling and fixtures and cabinets. I don’t care as much about the stuff in storage—it’s mostly scrap wood and paint cans. I just haven’t had anything like this happen to me before and I want to make sure I have all the info I need to recover from this.

I know this post is all over the place, but any suggestions you have are welcome. Thanks for your help!
posted by greta simone to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Wet-vac is not enough. You had sewage flowing into your apartment. You need a water damage specialist.


(So sorry to hear this. Sounds horrible.)
posted by purpleclover at 10:32 AM on August 9, 2011

Set up fans blowing out in all the windows/door to dry out your apartment faster (if you don't have windows put it in the door.) This won't effect any of the insurance stuff. See if you can borrow one/some from the super
posted by ennui.bz at 10:38 AM on August 9, 2011

Do you have an incident or claim number from your insurance company? It's after lunch time, so I think it's perfectly reasonable to call your agent directly with that number, mention that you haven't heard back from the company, but you're concerned because of the fecal contaminated water that flowed through your apartment. Emphasize that it flowed into your kitchen cabinets.

While you're waiting for that response, find your policy documents. There will be details about coverage limitations. There might be a specific dollar amount cap on contents. Take pictures of everything you have. There might be a "replacement cost" stipulation, so if you have receipts for things, yay you. You may not want to accept their first offer. Remember, insurance companies make money by not paying claims, or by paying the absolute minimum. Depending on your policy and the extent of the damage, it may be worthwhile to have a lawyer respond to the first "offer" from your insurance company.

As for getting the damage to structure, etc fixed, Yelp or Angie's List plus grapevine of your friends for "water damage restoration." Yes, I realize that your landlord is probably going to hire one company to fix all three apartments, and there's a chance that you're moving out for the duration, or possibly for good.

But if you stay, you want somebody in there who is licensed, well insured, and reputable. You also want multiple estimates. Your landlord, most likely, wants to get this done as cheaply as possible, as this is not his living quarters we're talking about.

If you stay in the apartment, once the work begins, you want to watch that all of the recommended protocols are followed.
posted by bilabial at 10:46 AM on August 9, 2011

I had this happen to me in January, exact same situation. (And I also had a previous apartment flooding years ago when cleaners left the sinks on all day and all night on a day when my roommate and I weren't home until 11 p.m..) Here's how it's gone for me:

* My apt. complex manager hired a fire and water damage company, who brought giant vacuums and fans and whatnot to the place, and they ran in the damaged rooms for about a week. Theoretically, this is shit your complex/insurance should be taking care of, not you. You should not have to pay for this stuff. They will leave every door in your place wide open for a week while they do this, so with regards to security, if you have anything valuable that isn't damaged yet, get it out of there.

* I had to IMMEDIATELY move all of my non-damaged stuff out of there. Like RIGHT FUCKING NOW AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE starting at 5:30 a.m. when I discovered the toilet. The longer stuff is in water, the worse it gets. Now, when the toilet flooded it only damaged the bedroom areas and the living room was okay, so I could move everything in there. But with the previous flood every room got it, so the apartment complex rented me a POD to put things in. Not that the furniture was useable after gray water + sitting there for 2 months anyway, mind you. I think the only thing I saved was the papasan chair frame.

* You will definitely not be able to live in the place now or any time soon. If you are insured, will your insurance put you up in a motel? Hopefully this is the case, or otherwise you need to find a friend. Pick the cheapest one you can because god knows how long it'll take. It took two weeks for me to be able to move back in after the toilet flood (sucking out the water, new carpets, repainting), two months after the entire place had to be rebuilt (yes, they replaced the cabinets, fridge, etc.). Try to get a motel with a minifridge/microwave and then get a lot of cheap ready-to-nuke meals to live off of, save all of your food receipts.

* Your landlord will hopefully not charge you rent for the amount of time you are out of the apartment. If they can't house you, they can't charge you.

* Make a list of everything that's damaged/unrepairable on your own. Take pictures of the damaged stuff. The insurance lady had no time to come out here in person to see it, so make sure it's e-mailable pics. If you can, find out how much you paid for everything, because if you want reimbursement for stuff they want it in great detail. (Which I did not have, since I got a lot of that stuff for free or off the street or whatever, so it was a problem.) If you have any documentation saved for anything and it's not drowned, get it.

* When it comes to liability, I don't think the landlord is liable for idiots who clog a toilet. My landlord sued the idiots who flooded the entire place the first time. I am not sure if they are suing the idiots who clogged this time or not, but I think at least Talking Tos have occurred. Both times the landlord asked me for a list of damaged things to add to their claim/lawsuit, but AHEM, I never was talked to about the outcome of the lawsuit or given any money the first time. (I found out accidentally from the on-site management guy that oh, btw, they won. Ages ago.) So the second time they asked me for a list, I said "no thanks, I'm cool" because obviously they weren't gonna give me the money anyway.

((Note that I live in a college town and my management is still loads better than almost any landlord here. I don't like that they did that, but obviously they have done well for me otherwise in floods, I like the apartment/location and dear god I don't want to move or call a lawyer, so I let it go.)

I have no idea if you can sue them or not. If you don't have the money to hire a lawyer I don't think you'll be doing that anyway, right?

* Alas, I do not know of a service that will come clean out your crap for you. Okay, so I live on the other coast from you and I don't know what's offered in NYC, but I had to schlep all that stuff out with the help of a friend. No way around that one.

I'm very sorry this happened to you-- I know how it feels! Here's to hoping you hear back from insurance fast, and they pay for everything, and the repairs are done as soon as possible.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:48 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Check to see if your insurer (or the landlord's insurer if that's who you're working with) can recommend a water damage specialist, they often have preferred vendors they can recommend to you. If they don't, ServPro would be my first choice. Servicemaster also has a good reputation. They will get in there, assess the damage and clean and dry the area. In the meantime, here's a link to what to do/ not do right now before the cleaners come in.

Disclaimer: My parents owned a ServPro for years, but not in Brooklyn.
posted by platinum at 11:56 AM on August 9, 2011

Oh, yes, I had ServPro for mine. Great folks in my town.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:58 AM on August 9, 2011

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