How to deal with water damage caused by insurance-less neighbor?
September 27, 2012 8:22 AM   Subscribe

Friend lives in a Philadelphia row home. His neighbor's house was sealed by the DA. Neighbor broke back in & flooded the basement intentionally. The water also flooded my friend's basement and he is now concerned about potential mold problems. Neighbor does not have insurance. How should he proceed so as to both deal with potential mold & mildew before they become a problem and not cause his own homeowner's insurance to increase.
posted by davidvanb to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A company like Servpro can deal with the aftermath of the flooding. The answer to the second question probably involves a lawsuit, but I'm not sure if your friend should file it, or it should be his/her insurance company.
posted by dortmunder at 8:29 AM on September 27, 2012

Yup, also, I'd call the police and file a vandalism report. I'd also let the DA know that I had done so.

You don't fuck with Bunny.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:30 AM on September 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

The EPA has a few flood cleanup Resources

In general mold becomes more of a problem if the water is allowed to sit and the area doesn't dry properly. Getting the basement dry should be your first point of order - hopefully its an unfinished basement - the cleanup is easier.
posted by bitdamaged at 8:35 AM on September 27, 2012

If your friend doesn't want to file with his insurance (although I suggest your friend weight out the costs of not filing vs. the cost of letting his insurance handle the situation vs. how much his premiums increase (if any)), could he talk to the DA about charges of property damage being filed against the neighbor so that he's financially responsible? I don't know how that would play out in court (or how you would get the money from him) but it may be an alternative to filing a lawsuit against the neighbor.

Is there a way to ask the insurance company what would make the insurance rates go up in this type of situation without actually filing a report? Could someone call an agent perhaps without giving specific info about the account? I know I've asked questions about potential claims (that were never filed because it wasn't cost effective) with my State Farm agent and it never increased my rates. YMMV depending on your company, but I made the call to the agent first, not the 800 number to report an incident.

A place like Servpro or Steamatic can handle the cleanup, which is the very first step in order to avoid further damage.
posted by MultiFaceted at 8:54 AM on September 27, 2012

Also, I'd think you'd want the DA or someone to know about the water in the neighbor's basement so that they could get that cleaned up so it doesn't grow mold either. It's possible that they send the same crew to clean both basements at once...but I guess that depends on why the house was sealed by the DA and what the charges/situation is. You don't want that basement to be growing mold either.
posted by MultiFaceted at 8:56 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all the comments so far. I'm the friend mentioned in the OP. My main question is how much of a risk is it to contact my homeowners agent to simply discuss my options? I don't want this mere call (and the mention of mold) to send up a red alert that causes a rate hike. I also don't know that I actually have mold yet -- I mostly want to make sure I'm compensated for any mold detection/prevention/removal services as well as the dehumidifier I purchased. I have a sump pump so the water was dealt with pretty quickly -- but the point where the water came in was a crack under the basement steps -- I'm mostly afraid of mold forming in there.

Re: the neighbor & the DA, the DA has lifted the seal in order to give them the ability to "fix up" the house in prep for sale. The deed is not in their name (it's in the deceased parents' name) but they are working on resolving that. So they are the "occupant" even if not legally so via the deed. They have no money & no homeowners. The DA refuses to take any responsibility for the actions of the neighbor so they are of no help either.

posted by boxingclever at 9:33 AM on September 27, 2012


Seems like you (or your insurance company) should be able to file a lien or something so that once the house is sold you get reimbursed from the proceeds of the sale. I'm not sure if that would be more effective coming from your insurance company or you. But it's something to consider.

I've always had great luck in calling my insurance agent (State Farm, in two different states) and asking questions without them filing anything. I guess it depends on your insurance company and your agent. Do you have a good relationship with your agent? you know someone who has a good relationship with their agent (of the same company) that could ask some questions "off the record"?
posted by MultiFaceted at 9:45 AM on September 27, 2012

Your first comment is exactly what I've been trying to figure out if I can orchestrate (the lien at the time of sale). That's the only time these folks will have any money to go after. I contacted a lawyer today and he didn't seem to think he'd be able to arrange something like that from his end. But perhaps the insurance company would be more willing to go for it? My deductible is $1K so I'm just trying to avoid anything that will either spike the rates or leave me

As far as my policy goes, I just switched to a new agent & company about 2-3 months ago. Saved me a ton of money for better coverage. She seems very cool but I'm a bit worried that I haven't had enough months as a customer to avoid the early red flag aspect.
posted by boxingclever at 10:12 AM on September 27, 2012

This is exactly what insurance is for: an unexpected, (catastrophic criminal vandalism) event. And since this could potentially impact the ability of you to sell your own property in the future, it does count and I think you should file a claim.

You will likely only be out the deductible, and you will be able to sue your neighbor in small claims court to recoup that. (Whether you want to do that or not is up to you.) After the claim is adjudicated, and you are made whole, your insurance company will go after your neighbor (subrogation) to recoup its losses in paying your claim.

First step, though, is to file a police report, and then mitigate your damages by taking action to clean up and preserve your property, which it sounds like you have done, but please make sure you are involving an expert and are doing it properly.

I'm not a lawyer or insurance expert, just a hard-boiled consumer who has had to deal with things like this before.
posted by FergieBelle at 10:38 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

File a claim, don't worry about the red flags. This is precicely why one has insurance. They'll subrogate the claim and get their money back. It shouldn't impact your rates.

I'd sue the bastard who did this though in civil court. Even if he doesn't have any money, I'd want to give him grief.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:45 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I called the police the night-of and they filed a report. I also have photos and even a video of me sloshing the water towards the sump pump. Just to clarify, the flooding of the basement was NOT intentional on their part, but most certainly negligent since they had removed most of the copper pipes in the house to sell for scrap and pay for their drug habits. As you indicated, I've done what I can to mitigate the damage by using a dehumidifier 24 hours and cleaned up everything I had access to that very same evening. But yes I'd very much like to have an expert take a look and let me know if they detect anything beyond what I can see -- that's where the $$ comes into play.

Thanks for these thoughts -- it's much appreciated.
posted by boxingclever at 10:51 AM on September 27, 2012

You may actually be obliged under the terms of your insurance to tell the insurance company about this. Over here, at any rate (I'm in Ireland, not the USA) saying nothing could count as 'non-disclosure of a material fact ' and might cause problems with the policy overall.
posted by Azara at 12:08 PM on September 27, 2012

Call your insurance company. You will want a record of this having been taken care of properly in case mold becomes an issue. If you ever want to sell, you'll be happy that there's a clear record of proper post-flood treatment and (if you need it) mold eradication having been done. Don't be short-sighted about the potential costs of this. You need informed advocates to make sure your home is ok and to go after the delinquents next door with liens, etc.
posted by quince at 3:17 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I ended up calling ServPro last night and the representative said that he couldn't even justify coming out & charging me for an inspection because the basement is unfinished, and the likelihood of mold growing in treated wood & cement was very small. He said 99.99% of the time, mold issues are from carpeting and sheet rock in finished basements.

I also called my agent and she suggested calling an adjuster for advice (no red flags raised). She did, however, say that because any possible mold would be from a flood they'd likely not even touch it anyway. Given that mold is so unlikely per the ServPro guy, I'm thinking of just continuing to run the dehumidifier and letting it go for now.
posted by boxingclever at 8:37 AM on September 28, 2012

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