Fire in apartment below--rebuilding/insurance questions
August 22, 2015 9:24 AM   Subscribe

[Asking for a friend] My building had a fire last night, on the floor below mine. I have middling fire damage at baseboard level in both bedrooms, both of which will be uninhabitable until the damage is ripped out and redone. All my windows are broken and glass is everywhere, but aside from the above stuff and the overwhelming odor of smoke and my broken-down front door, there is no other (water or fire or smoke stain) damage to the apartment. This is in NYC, and I have no renter's insurance.

The cause of the fire was another tenant's negligence with candles, although idk if this has been officially declared by investigators yet. However, I don't have any damage to my belongings other than smoke stink so I don't need to make a claim for any compensation. Also I needed a new couch anyway.

My questions are:
- I assume the rebuild is covered in full by my landlord's insurance, but am I responsible for paying rent for the time my apartment is unliveable? I am not rent controlled or stabilized.
- will I have to wait until the insurance investigators approve my landlord's claim before they start working on my apartment or can they start asap?
- Is the landlord responsible for paying for my lodging during the time that my apartment is uninhabitable?
- I had planned to hire a cleaning service to sweep up all the glass and clean all the surfaces with smoke stains, but my aunt is insisting that this should be the landlord's responsibility. Is she right?
- I'd be glad to have any personal recommendations for the above cleaning service
- I'm going to wash as much of my clothing and bedding as possible but if anyone has had any experience specifically with cleaning/having professionally cleaned down quilts and pillows, let me know
posted by grobstein to Law & Government (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
See page 18 here and this notice.

You generally won't have to pay for rent if it's uninhabitable, but you may have to take steps to ensure you're protected in that regard. Unlikely landlord is responsible for your lodging otherwise since you're having your rent reduced or temporarily canceled - if you had renter's insurance that sort of thing generally is covered there.
posted by Karaage at 9:29 AM on August 22, 2015


From the above link:

Where a vacate order from a Municipal agency has been issued and the tenant files the application (form RA-81), DHCR may order the tenant’s rent reduced to $1.00 per month for the period that the tenant is unable to occupy their apartment. If unsure whether a vacate order has been issued for their apartment, the tenants should file (form RA-81) and DHCR will investigate the status of vacate orders.

Note: If an Order is issued reducing the rent to $1 per month, the payment is to be made to the Building Owner, not DHCR.

Affected Tenants may submit an online application on the DHCR website at: http://www.nyshcr.org/Apps/DecreasedServices/


If you elect to file an application manually, you should indicate the date of the fire and/or the date of the Vacate Order. The agency who issued the Vacate Order should be identified and if possible, a copy of the Vacate Order should be submitted with the application. The manual forms are available at: http://www.nyshcr.org/Forms/Rent/#tenant or you may request one from the DHCR

posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:32 AM on August 22, 2015


When this happened to me, I was in Philadelphia and it was the rowhouse two doors down that caught on fire, and my roommate owned the house we were living in. So I can't comment on the specifics of being a renter in NYC, but I can say that my roommate's homeowner's insurance acted very quickly to put huge industrial fans in our house to clear out the smoke and gave us a specific cleaning company to call that was experienced at doing cleanup after a fire. The insurance company was very concerned about smoke particles coating surfaces even if the residue wasn't necessarily visible to us and wanted to be sure that all surfaces (including walls and ceilings) were thoroughly cleaned.

It's the landlord's insurance that covers a building after a fire, and I think there's a strong chance that even if your friend hires a cleaning company, the landlord's insurance will still require a different kind of cleaning company to come through the whole building. So if at all possible, I would hold off on personally hiring a cleaning company, at least until you know more details. I got the impression that damage from smoke (even if there isn't visible burning/staining) is more serious than you might realize just from looking around and that insurance companies want to make sure that things are cleaned to a specific standard.
posted by jessypie at 10:52 AM on August 22, 2015


The cause of the fire was another tenant's negligence with candles, although idk if this has been officially declared by investigators yet.

Your friend can request a copy of the Fire Incident Report here. I did a quick search and I don't think any of the structure fires in NYC last night were investigated by a Fire Marshal but in case it was, here is the link Fire Marshal investigation report.
posted by mlis at 10:58 AM on August 22, 2015


You need to stop until you know the particulars of what the landlord's insurance covers. Building cleanup (ie glass) is probably covered. Damage or cleaning to your personal items probably is not as the landlord's policy will not cover your personal belongings -- this is the gap renter's insurance is intended to cover.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:11 AM on August 22, 2015


Smoke gets into absolutely everything so you should expect that just about everything that was in the apartment will need to be cleaned. Things that were provided by the landlord (windows - and their broken glass), floor coverings, walls) should be his responsibility. But everything else that was an exposed surface and, depending on the air circulation, many things in closets and drawers - books, dishes, clothes - will need to be wiped down or washed.

Red Cross has some suggestions here and this research article discusses which laundry products were more effective ("These can be most effectively renewed by using a warm water wash with either a non-built liquid detergent (EraTM) or a low phosphate powder detergent and a liquid chlorine bleach (AllTM and CloroxTM). "). Note that they used five washings to determine effective removal of smoke - so if the smoke smell is bad, it may take more than just one or two washing to get rid of it.
posted by metahawk at 11:21 AM on August 22, 2015


HI this is my house and here are my updates:

I got home this afternoon and the emergency cleaners that the landlord hired have swept up most of the glass and plaster and bricks and burnt crap and will be returning tomorrow for more work. The windows are boarded up and may be replaced tomorrow, more likely monday. They have huge fans airing it out but it stinks unbelievably. Once they are done with whatever they're doing I will hire a regular cleaning service to do all surfaces. I'm cleaning electronics and books and dishes and whatnot now by hand.

both my air conditioners were unfortunately running when i went out the window so they were on throughout the entire fire. I cleaned the filters but the air coming out still smells horribly charred. Are these salvageable or hazardous?
posted by poffin boffin at 11:49 AM on August 22, 2015


both my air conditioners were unfortunately running when i went out the window so they were on throughout the entire fire. I cleaned the filters but the air coming out still smells horribly charred. Are these salvageable or hazardous?

IMO, as someone whose had a house fire, they're not hazardous, just gross. And no, they'll be impossible to take apart and adequately clean. And bear in mind, i'm an electronics/hardware tech with years of experience who's willing to teardown ANYTHING. They're just not made to come apart much. Window ACs are dirt freaking cheap as far as appliances and house stuff go, like $100-120 on amazon/at frys/at walmart/etc cheap. Just junk them and move on. You will never get them "clean".

I'm going to wash as much of my clothing and bedding as possible but if anyone has had any experience specifically with cleaning/having professionally cleaned down quilts and pillows, let me know

I had shit luck with this. I was going to just live with my nice(like, >$1000 been in the family since the 80s nice) down comforter smelling a little bit, and then my roommates dog pissed on it several times, i ran it through the washer since i didn't want to pay the $$$$$ cleaning fees for the huge thing and destroyed it.

Honestly, i'm happy i did. I didn't even realize how much it stunk even after cleaning. Go on craigslist and buy a "i tried it twice and didn't like it" one from someone that's obviously new. I did that with a silk comforter and it ruled.

Pillows are too cheap to bother with, even if they're $$$ pillows, still too cheap to bother with. And right in your face. Just buy new ones. I was going to try the cleaning route with those, but my mom went "for fucks sake really?" and showed up with new ones after i had bagged mine up and slapped some sense into me.

My landlord was a huge foot dragging prick about this and left basically all the cleanup to me... and it was a miserable nightmare. I still can't believe they did this, but i learned a lot about how(and how much you even can) cleaning this stuff works. Some stuff, like a nice old morris chair i was not going to give up just got a thorough wood polish and leather shampoo and never smelled like smoke again. A lot of other things, like curtains, are garbage. Anything directly exposed that can't be run through a washing machine that's fabricy is possibly garbage.

It's also worth noting that the smoke-coating will extend INSIDE cabinets, dressers, etc. Every single cup/plate/dish i had was freaking filthy, and the inside of the cabinets needed to be repainted/repapered because i just could not get it off.

Worth noting i didn't have to 86 my mattress, but my bed was directly on the floor and buried in sheets/comforter/pillows with a mattress topper and cover and stuff. All THAT stuff was filthy, but it protected the mattress. I suspect that if my bed was on a frame, it would have been trash.

My parents repeated browbeating comment was "this is why you get renters insurance lol".

If you had a non-disassemblable computer like a laptop or an imac the air out of the vents is going to smell vaguely of fire for the life of the machine. If you have a desktop you can tear apart, it probably still will. You'll just have to live with it. I'm pretty sure i still have a few random gadgets with vents that smell like fire. Fuck if i was going to throw out a brand new laptop, though.

I never got any concrete evidence that something that's not fabric, that you're not putting your face on smelling like fire made it dangerous/a hazard to be around/etc. I understand things that you wear or sleep on or that could absorb it being ruined, but hard plastic objects with vents that just sort of sucked up a bit of the smell? Nah. For example, i had an old tube TV(a really nice, expensive, HD sony one) at the time and a bunch of it got in the vents. When it was on and warm, it smelled like fire. I filed that under meh.

Is the landlord responsible for paying for my lodging during the time that my apartment is uninhabitable?

Nope... we literally kept living in our fucking destroyed apartment because the FD didn't kick us out, they weren't going to provide this, and we had nowhere else to go(and weren't about to spring for a hotel for ??? long we couldn't afford). I've never heard of this working that way anywhere, including super-tight-housing-regs places like SF and NYC. The rent reduction thing is real, but this never happens. That's a thing YOUR insurance would do... if you had it, and it was good insurance.


Do 46 hail mary's and praise the dark lord that they didn't come in to your house and blast shit with fire extinguishers. That was 10000000000x worse than the smoke damage and destroyed more directly exposed things than the smoke ever could with it's powdery nightmare that turns to paste when exposed to water or cleaning stuff.


On preview, if they're an asshole landlord or have crappy insurance, expect some big delay in them actually fixing anything until they figure out if they can get a judgement against or start billing the person who caused the fire, rather than just solving the problem and collecting later. That came up too, ugh.

Also on preview, in retrospect i'm convinced that the tiny particulate actually broke things that otherwise wouldn't have failed MONTHS later. I'm not sure i even would have been able to prove this to insurance... but things like laptop screen hinges, buttons on stuff, even kitchen cabinet hinges failed or seized or got really squeeky or otherwise fucked up basically EVERYWHERE in the house. It's like the particulate had gotten in there and just sanded apart or fucked up the works. Hell, i'm suspicious it might have even contributed to the rapid and sudden demise of the faucet valves, which seem to have previously lasted most of a century. Just be ready for that stupidity.
posted by emptythought at 1:18 PM on August 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


If the other tenant who caused the fire has renters insurance, especially if there's an official finding that it was caused by their negligence, it's possible you could claim against their liability coverage for your damages, including professional cleaning to get smoke out of your clothes and other possessions. As far as actually getting their insurance company to pay up, perhaps other mefites have experience.
posted by zachlipton at 3:03 PM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


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