My neighbor bogusly claims that we have flooded her apartment

cgiacomoNovember 26, 2007

I guess I'm not alone on this. I bought a property. We moved in. The following morning my neighbour from the apartment below came to say welcome and that we had flooded her apartment. I was totally caught off guard. I didn't have any insurance as I was in the process of analyzing options. There were never any calls for settlement after this morning. We even volunteer to help this person and gave her our phone number, thinking that we could arrange a settlement but we were going to explore the real cause of this leak/water. We even went to our building manager to inform it and he said that since there was no negligence from our side, that she was probably not going to do anything.

We didn't hear anything until 5 months later. This lady didn't say anything nor tried to contact us, nor her insurance company. Today I received a subrogation demand letter. This "lady" is claiming for a new kitchen, floors, furniture, appliances of the entire apartment. I took pictures on her kitchen that same afternoon because I told my husband that we better did, but not of her entire apartment. There was some water but we saw nothing major and nothing like what she is claiming. Our apartment was empty when that might have happened, if it ever did. We had renovations in our unit but we didn't touch any plumbing nor floors or walls (just paint and replacing the countertop, for which we closed the valves, that's all). This is ridiculous. Our kitchen didn't have any trace of any kind of water or damages. We even though there might be a broken pipe. The fact is that this lady never said anything about claiming for repairing her entire apartment and now she wants everything new, when here stuff is not even in good shape. The adjustors indicates the price as if this was a brand new apartment. I'm an architect (not licensed). This is totally unfair. I'm desperate. I really don't know what to do. We have no means to pay for what she is claiming. It's not even negligence. Can I get some professional advice please? I'm panicking. My husband lost his job and with this big mortgage the last thing I need is a problem like this. Honestly, I'll be very grateful if you can guide me. Thanks.

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" Can I get some professional advice please?"

Yes you can. But not here. No one here is qualifed to give you professional advice for a complicated situation like you describe. You do not supply all the details in your post and there are too many contingencies. From what I understand you had someone come in and do renovations. You may have to sue them if they are responsible for casuing a leak.

You already used your 'building manager' for legal advice and look what that did for your situation.

A licensed attorney is not going to give out advice on an internet discussion board and an attorney is what you need now that you have received a subrogation demand letter. Instead of giving this woman your phone number you should have given the number of your attorney for her to call. That small step alone could have caused her to "chill out". You are at a disadvantage by not having your property insured. If you had insurance your insurance company would fight this tooth and nail while you sit back and sip latte. Moral of the story for everybody: Have your property insured.

I don't want to sound heartless, as this is an awful situation to be in, and I do wish you good luck and a happy ending to your saga.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2007 at 10:59PM
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Wow, what a mess. I agree with bud though, get a lawyer. I hope you have insurance now, really. I know so many people who consider it an "expense" but it isn't at all, it is protection. I always have my insurance start on a new place the day it goes in our name, not even wait til we move in. The peace of mind is always worth the money.

Her claim sounds bogus just from reading so she may have a "see through" case.........the burden of proof will be hers so you may be ok......get an attorney and insurance and let us know what happens.

Best wishes!

    Bookmark   November 28, 2007 at 2:24PM
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Basically I hear that if there is No Fault of such flood, if it ever happened, and if there is no way they can prove negligence on our side, then we are not to pay, but I'm just not clear how does this work. The insurance company has to prove that we did this. We were recently informed that there has been depositions by everybody (property manager, maintenance person) but nobody has approached us for one. Aren't we supposed to get our side of the story under consideration? How do they know where did the water come from? I know gravity is a factor but, couldn't this be a case of a lady opening a hose in her apartment and looking for reason to get remodeling at somebody else's expense, right? She claims that she had been on vacation for 2 weeks. How can they take her word without confirming if we have any water stains, mold or mildew in our unit? Well, if there was a flood, I'm sure there would be at least traces of such problem in our walls and swollen plywood in our cabinets.
Right now it's only us against All State Insurance, as we (and I hate to say this) stu/*&^y didn't have insurance. We live in Miami, Florida. Does anyone knows anything that give us some light on how to approach this? Yes, we are know looking for an attorney so we can respond to this but so far the fee for a good lawyer is $3500 +$300 per hour. We are going to suffer no matter what... Please help!!!!

    Bookmark   November 30, 2007 at 9:45AM
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"We were recently informed that there has been depositions by everybody (property manager, maintenance person) but nobody has approached us for one. Aren't we supposed to get our side of the story?"

You are the defendant not a witness.


In the mean time, hire a building contractor to inspect your premises to locate the possible cause of the damage.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2007 at 2:13PM
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Is there a University in your area? Sometimes a law school will offer FREE legal advice to those who cannot afford an attorney. You have to prove income. They cannot represent you in court as they are merely students. This could be a big help to you. The students are not liable for incorrect advice they give and you will have to sign something saying that you will not hold them responsible for anything. Its still worth a shot to get all the help you can. Also check your phone book for the Legal Aid Society. I don't know what their policy is for civil cases so you will have to research it yourself, there are income guidlines and such.

Insurance companies are RUTHLESS and will take advantage of you if you are not represented by an attorney in court, so you will need one, but the legal advice you get from the law school can get you going in the right direction and explain legal terms to you so that you understand "deposition" and "subrogation" and other words you will be exposed to. You want to be able to speak their language. By getting legal advice at the law school you may be able to do a lot of the "footwork" in getting your case together and have everything ready for your attorney who is going to charge by the hour for anything he has to do.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2007 at 12:18AM
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another thing- consider doing your own research about leaks. I did some last year when my bathroom was ruined by water from above. I suspected and everyone else suspected that the neighbors above had an overflow and caused it, however, I was out of town for quite awhile and when I arrived to find the damage, there was no water anywhere any more and therefore very difficult to prove it was an overflow.

The assumption (by the building and my other neighbors) was that the neighbors had caused it since none of the pipes were leaking. However, in my research I found an article in the NY Times talking about a mysterious leak on the 2nd or 3rd floor of a 6 story building that was actually caused by standing water on the roof. Water behaves in odd ways. In this case the water bypassed all the apartments above and landed on a lower floor and caused damage there.

Articles like that might help you because the burden of proof (I assume) will be on the other insurance company to prove that you caused this damage. If you can suggest other possible causes that they did not investigate, this MIGHT help. However, I'm no lawyer so take that advice with a grain of salt.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2007 at 12:40AM
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That is what I meant by "In the mean time, hire a building contractor to inspect your premises to locate the possible cause of the damage."

The leak could be coming in from somewhere else, even from the other side of the building.

Also the leak could be due to something that was done during renovations and updates that were done.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2007 at 11:47AM
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Since you mention that you bought this property and it is not a rental unit, I am surprised that homeowners insurance was not required with the mortgage. Are you SURE you do not have coverage??? I would get out my paperwork and comb through it immediately. Is it a condo or did you buy into a cooperative apartment???? That may make a difference in who the plaintive sues. What exactly did you buy?

If you do not have a martgage and paid cash, or bought it on a land contract, you may have recourse to go after the previous owner because there are *disclosure laws* in some states that may come into play here. Maybe they knew the roof was collasping and that is why they sold it? As I said before your case is too complicated and there are not enough details provided, to iron this mess out on a discussion board.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2007 at 1:41PM
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Bud, I know w/ co-ops, there's no such think as homeowners' insurance, because a co-op owner does not actually own anything physical. Renter's insurance is required for your possessions as well as liability, and the mortgage company doesn't particularly care about that.

I don't know how condo's work in terms of insurance. I know it's not like a house.

Also, if this is a condo, aren't the pipes inside the walls the CONDO's problems? I know this would be true of a co-op. But maybe not of a condo, if the pipes are on a wall that's interior to your unit.

I think you need information--you need a building expert to look inside your walls and see if there is evidence of water--either originating in your unit, or traveling down from above. Does anyone live over you? It's possible *they* had an overflow or something, and it skipped you.

(also, if it was truly a leak in a pipe in the walls, wouldn't it be ongoing? This sounds like a one-time thing. So how did you overflow your tub, or something, in the single day you owned the unit? If she was out of town, how does she know exactly which day the flood occurred?)

You are going to need to spend some money to defend yourselves against this.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2007 at 10:15AM
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cgiacomo, hire an inspector to find out where the leak came from and if there is one.

This sounds fishy. The leak supposedly came from your place and the damage to the neighbors place showed up the morning after closing, but the neighbor let it go for 5 months? Did you get any kind of warranty on your purchase?

Water does gravity but it also takes the path of least resistance. Once upon a time the morning we left for vacation, the stupid downstairs neighbor called 911 saying water was dripping out of their smoke detector and pouring out of their ceiling on their TV etc This neighbor knew we had renter insurance.

They told the fire dept that we had a 100 gallon aquarium and a water bed and one of them must have broke. The fire department broke into our apartment and the water didn't come from us.

In the end the water came from the upper apartment across the hall, the water took the path of least resistance.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2007 at 4:28PM
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