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The Day After The Fire, What’s A Landlord To Do?

I had a major fire at one of my properties back in late 2014. I wrote about the first evening after getting the call here. In this post I want to talk a little about the day after.

The day after.   The first chance I would have to see the extent of the damage.   I had been to the property the night before, right after the fire, but it was dark, the utilities had been shut off and there simply was a lot of commotion and confusion. I really could not tell much. From the front, it actually did not look that bad.   I knew it was bad but, as I left that night I remember thinking that perhaps the damage would not be that bad. I was totally wrong.

The property actually did not look so bad from the front.

The fire started in the upstairs apartment in the back of the property after one of the tenants threw what he thought was an unlit cigarette in the trash. That was the fire’s point of origin. When I got to the property on the next day, the roof over this area was completely gone. The fire had burned right through it. From this point of origin you could see where the fire traveled as it sought out more fuel and oxygen. It was really interesting to see actually. It flowed along and burned out most of the rafters in the attic. It traveled along the ceiling from the bedroom into the kitchen and living areas, melting everything plastic on its way. As you got farther and farther away from the point of origin, damage from actual fire was less and less. But the damage still continued on.

The back was where the real damage was.

I never really realized how much damage smoke can cause. There must have been a ton of smoke as the fire was raging and I now understand why smoke is what actually kills you. It had simply been everywhere and must have been overpowering. There was a thick layer of black soot on everything. It was on the ceilings, the walls, the floors, on every piece of furniture and every fixture. And the smell was overpowering. Anything the smoke had touched was ruined.

Then there was the water. I think the fire department pumped a good bit of the Mississippi River on my tri-plex that night to get the fire put out. That water caused as much damage as the fire did. The fire was on the second level and thus that was where most of the water was pumped. And since water responds well to gravity, it naturally rained in on the two units on the ground floor. Loads of soaked sheetrock and plaster had collapsed or were about to. The wood floors were just beginning to bend and buckle. Clothes, furniture and other tenant keepsakes were all ruined.

Water, water everywhere!

Finally, there was the damage the fire department caused as they put out the fire. Doors are kicked in and forced open. Smoldering wood, furniture, mattresses, etc was all tossed out all over the yard and doused with water. The place was a mess.

Suffice it to say the tri-plex was a total loss. It was going to take a major rehab job to get it back in operation.

So what to do now?

First, secure the property. You have to protect yourself from liability and protect what remains of the tenant’s belongings. As I said doors were forced open. Locks and door jams were ripped away. There was no way to simply lock up anymore. Pad locks were bought and installed to keep people out of what was a hazardous building.

Second, salvage what you can. The AC condensers, water heaters and some of the appliances were still in good shape and could be used elsewhere. So I had my crews immediately remove them and place them in storage. If I had left them there, thieves would have been on the scene very quickly.

Third, I called my insurance company and got that ball rolling. This was a major disaster and I was going to need the insurance to help rebuild.

Finally, we got with our tenants and made sure they understood the situation. There are some legal issues here that have to be addressed. But I write more about that in a future post.

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