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Ask an Expert: Should my landlord pay for my wrecked laptop?

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Q. The ceiling of my bedroom partially collapsed last week due a leak. I wasn't in there at the time (phew) but my desk and laptop were wrecked along with some other belongings.  

The ceiling is almost fixed but my landlord says that he's not responsible for the stuff that was ruined in my apartment.  

Is that true?  I had nothing to do with the leak--it was from the apartment upstairs.

A. The answer depends on who is to blame for causing the leak, say our experts.

"If it was caused by the upstairs tenant, the landlord would not likely have any liability for the computer or other personal property," says real estate attorney Jeffrey Reich of Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz.  

If the leak was your landlord's fault, says asset manager and real estate broker Roberta Axelrod of Time Equities, "most leases state that landlord is not responsible for damage to contents of the apartment and tenants are well advised to carry renters insurance for just these types of situations."

Renter's insurance, which costs about $125-$165 a year for basic coverage, would pay for the claim minus your deductible--unless your landlord was neligent, in which case you could get all or part of your deductible back too, says apartment insurance broker Jeff Schneider of Gotham Brokerage.

"If the landlord was negligent, your insurance company would attempt to recover your deductible from the landlord's insurer," says Schneider. "If you have a $1,500 laptop and a $500 deductible, for example, your insurance company will pay you $1000 for a covered claim. They will then go after the landlord or landlord's insurer if they think the landlord is at fault. If they get $1,500 back, they will pay you the full $500 deductible. If they only recover half the claim amount--$750--they would reimburse you half the deductible, or $250."

Don't have renter's insurance?

"It is worth a polite request asking your landlord to submit your claim to his insurance company for the remote possibility the insurance adjuster agrees to cover the damages," suggests property manager Thomas Usztoke of Douglas Elliman Property Management.


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