Q: I am currently renting an apartment in Pittsburgh. The owner of the apartment building decided to “clean out” the storage lockers of tenants who have moved.
After filling out two forms and talking to him the unthinkable happened. We had about fifteen large plastic containers labeled with the contents, estimated valued of $10,000. The items discarded were not inventoried by the people “cleaning up.”
The landlord readily admitted he made a big mistake. His insurance, however, does not cover this type of liability. He has a claim service company that called and offered us half of the value. We told the claim company that was unacceptable. We made no counter offer and neither did they.
Where do we go from here? Is this a case a for a real estate attorney? Who would handle something like this? And what do I not know that I need to know?
A: Every once in awhile, something unfortunate like this happens. It sounds as though your landlord recognizes that a mistake was made and it was entirely on his watch. A gentleman would immediately offer to reimburse you for your losses, provided you could prove what was in your plastic containers. Instead, you’ve been offered half the supposed value.
Your next step would be to sue your landlord, in small claims court if possible. In some states, you can sue in small claims court for damages up to $20,000. And, you can do it yourself. If you have a copy of the paper trail, admission from the landlord that he and his employees messed up, that will help.
Otherwise, you’ll need to engage the services of a litigation attorney. This will be costly, and even if the landlord has to pay the legal fees, you may not get enough money from the landlord to make the whole process worthwhile.
Have you considered filing a claim with your renter’s insurance? This should be covered under a regular policy. If you have renter’s insurance, they will pay the claim and then may go after the landlord.
If you don’t have renter’s insurance, consult with a litigation attorney. Some states may provide for reimbursement of attorney’s fees in these cases. You may also be able to work out a deal with your landlord to get a combination of cash and free rent that would be equal to the value of the items lost.