liability after apartment fire in NYC
March 12, 2013 5:52 PM   Subscribe

The other night there was a fire in my friend's building in New York City; the fire was on the 10th floor, he lives on the 21st. He wasn't present while the fire happened, but there was smoke damage to his apartment, particularly to his clothes. My friend doesn't have renter's insurance.

I have two related questions. The first is about cleaning -- what is the best plan of attack for cleaning his clothes? Is there a particularly laundry detergent or laundry strategy he ought to deploy? Is there a particular type of dry cleaner to which he should take his suits (and should he ask for some special treatment)?

The second question is about liability for his expenses. If his clothes can be cleaned, he expects that the total cost to him will only be a few hundred dollars, or less; if his clothes can't be cleaned and he has to buy new suits, it could cost him one or two thousand dollars. Given that he has no renter's insurance, is there any possibility that the building, or the person who started the fire, is responsible for his expenses under New York and New York City law? Complicating matters is the fact that he is actually subleasing his place from another party; is it possible that that person's insurance has some liability even if the building doesn't?

Of course I understand that none of you are his lawyer, but he wants a sense of whether this is worth pursuing at all.
posted by gerryblog to Law & Government (9 answers total)
Does your friend know anything about the circumstances of the fire? Was it caused by negligence on the part of the 10th floor resident, or was it a freak accident? Or maybe someone else was liable for the fire, like maybe the landlord in the case of faulty wiring? If he is interested in some kind of financial award, he should start by finding out who, if anyone, bears responsibility.

If I'm understanding you clearly, while your friend doesn't have renter's insurance, the leaseholder of the apartment, who he sublets from, does? If that's the case, yeah, he should definitely talk to the person he sublets from to see if that policy might cover this. I have a vague sense that it might, from previous not-formally-on-the-lease living situations of my own.
posted by Sara C. at 5:58 PM on March 12, 2013

He thinks the fire was caused by falling asleep while smoking.

He's not sure if the guy he's subleasing from has insurance or not.
posted by gerryblog at 6:02 PM on March 12, 2013

We had a big house fire and all our smoky clothes were fine. I just washed the washable stuff and they sent the rest to the cleaners. There were dressy clothes and a suit. We got the school uniforms out of the hamper 15 feet from the fire and washed them and they wore them to school the next day. (The dryer caught fire, so all the nice clean folded stuff was gone but the stuff in the bedrooms was fine.)
posted by artychoke at 6:10 PM on March 12, 2013

He thinks the fire was caused by falling asleep while smoking.

If he intends to pursue this further than "being sorta mad at that annoying guy on the 10th floor who caused me to rack up $200 in dry cleaning bills" he should find out for sure what caused the fire.
posted by Sara C. at 6:21 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

He needs to bring his suits to a fancy dry cleaner that does ozone cleaning. That got the smell out of my nice clothes when I was in a similar situation.

If there is no insurance, there is always small claims court.
posted by radioamy at 6:28 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know the fire you are asking about -- it's a bit complicated as initial reports are that residents in the building propped stairway exit doors and left apartment doors on the fire floor open which contributed to the spread and intensity of the fire. Wind was also a contributing factor in spread and intensity.

Upon the Fire Department's arrival fire was blowing out of windows which is always bad.

Although it is not believed to be suspicious, there is an active Fire Marshal investigation. That investigation will determine if the cause of the fire was criminal or not. The insurance companies for all the different entities (building owner, management company, policyholders living in the building) will also conduct their own investigations.

Boiling it down for your friend: This was a fire that took >100 firefighters more than two hours to extinguish. There were several residents of the building injured as well as a few fire fighters.

Finding out "who was responsible" for the fire is going to be complicated by things like people leaving doors open. Insurance claims are litigated over such issues. This will not be a simple process and it will take time. Your friend is not going to be able to simply call Metro Tech and get a report next week.

Your friend can request a copy of the Fire Marshal investigation report here and a copy of the Fire Incident Report here.
posted by mlis at 9:16 PM on March 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also, the building's fire alarms failed according to press reports, which may help your friend make his case.
posted by mlis at 9:23 PM on March 12, 2013

Before the sun sets today, your friend needs to get some renters insurance. It's about $150 annually. If he's sepnding hundreds on suits, he can certainly afford it.

He'll likely be able to claim in small claims if liability is determined, so he can save his receipts.

The issue is, if his clothing is ruined, he'll only be able to recover the value of the item at the time of the loss. So he may have paid $500 for that suit, but he'll only get what a used suit is worth on the open market, so $50 if he's lucky.

So..when he gets that renters insurance, he needs to get "replacement value" for his things. Also, take video of everything in the apartment and upload to You Tube (in case he ever needs to make a claim) and start saving receipts, either in the ether or in an envelope.

Chances are, dry cleaning with ozone should take care of it. If not, he's probably out the money.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:31 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Building owner's insurance usually insures the actual building itself, not the contents brought in by tenants.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:12 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

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