For years, Debra R. dealt with leaks in her Beekman Place co-op, and some were so bad she had to leave her apartment. When a major flood made it completely uninhabitable in the summer of 2012, she and her then 11-year-old daughter moved into AKA Sutton Place, an extended-stay hotel close to her apartment and her daughter’s school where rooms start at $228 per night for a one-month stay in one-bedroom suites. Though they expected to be back in three months, they ended up staying for four years because of problems with the apartment and a protracted battle with her insurance company.
Here’s her story and her advice on what to do if you’re ever forced out of your apartment because of a similar disaster, including how to make a hotel a home—complete with a dog!—and the importance of hiring your own mold inspector.
Why did your co-op flood so badly?
It is a prewar building, and there were instances of water infiltration through the outside of the building and the roof, which caused several leaks. We actually stayed at AKA for three months in 2010 because of them, but in 2012, the co-op had decided to hire a contractor to repair the façade leaks. I’m right below a penthouse, and they tried to protect the drains of the penthouse when they were doing the work. A storm came in the afternoon, and the workers got off the ladder and left Styrofoam on the drain, so all the water from the storm could not go down the drain. It came over the roof and into my apartment. It was like Niagara Falls!
You were out of your co-op for four years. Why so long?
The co-op was very anxious to get me right back, but the work was not done to my satisfaction. When you’re in a prewar building, the water and moisture does not dry out in three months. If you try to put walls back, and they are not dry, you end up with other problems. When they first discovered that the walls were wet, we also had the issue of mold in certain areas, like behind the walls and under the floors, which were partially fixed and re-coated with polyurethane, so it had to be remediated. They put up sheetrock, which shrunk my apartment, and every time a new issue was discovered, it set everything back weeks—and often, months.
It took a long time for the insurance company to deal with the co-op’s managing agent to even start the work because no one wanted to assume the bulk of responsibility. They didn’t take my furniture out until the end of September, so it sat there, wet, for months, and then work started the last week of November.
I didn’t retain a lawyer until one year passed, and my insurance said they weren’t paying for the hotel anymore—there’s tiny fine print where it says they stop covering after a year. I couldn’t go home because the apartment wasn’t ready, and I wouldn’t bring my daughter, self, and the dog we added to the family back. So I had to pay for the hotel for the next three years, and get an attorney to fight with the insurance company. No legal fees are covered in these kinds of instances, and you will not be reimbursed, and you can’t even deduct it. I’m still fighting with insurance, and the co-op admits responsibility, but nobody wants to pay. It’s been a war, and I’m still living there and can’t sell.
Why did you choose an extended-stay property?
I didn’t want to be in a transient hotel with a child, which I had been (when forced out of the co-op previously). I wanted a place where there weren’t people going in and out all day and all night, checking in and checking out.
Was it challenging to adjust to life in the hotel?
The managing director, Jennifer Doherty, made it amazing, along with all of the staff. Of course, there are challenges because when you have to get out of your home within minutes, it’s a stressful situation. I was dealing with insurance people, my co-op, just everything—dealing with a flood turns your life inside out.
There was an adjustment of having to get our things from our home, especially clothes. I didn’t have my computer at first and loved using the computers in the co-working space on the main floor. Staff helped me print out anything that I needed. Even if it was late at night—I tend to work late when it gets quiet—they’d print things for me and send it up.
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How did you make it a home?
My daughter collected stuffed animals, so I bought her the same stuffed animals she had at home and set them all up on her bed. The managing director would send my daughter little stuffed animals and things for school, knowing she needed things we didn’t have on hand anymore. It wasn’t difficult making it comfortable because our suite was so comfortable and spacious, just like a regular apartment. We were in one of the penthouse apartments for the first year, but moved to a smaller two-bedroom apartment after that. We moved a few times within the hotel as it was renovated.
The first December we were there, the managing director took my daughter to look for a puppy. The staff was so excited, as excited as we were, to bring the puppy, a teacup French poodle, home. She grew up there, until she was almost 4-years-old. She has the most incredible disposition, and I believe it's because she was so used to all the people there because I would take her down to the lounge, and everyone would play with her.
What was it like when it was time to go back home?
Most people would go back to an apartment that was improved. I knew I was returning to an apartment that was not equal or better than when I had left because we were still having issues with the apartment being restored. I had so many distractions and hassles after we came back, which made it difficult.
What advice would you give someone in a similar situation?
It’s really hard to prepare. Everyone now puts more of their information on computers. In 2010, not everyone had every policy on computers, which I would now, and do have now. I would suggest everyone keep really good receipts, because you will be asked to submit those receipts. You can’t just give a credit card statement and say that’s my receipt—they want the receipt from the store.
I would definitely make sure your insurance will cover the time until you can move back. Most insurance companies end on the anniversary of your incident, so you should always check and negotiate.
And finally, when your building gives you a mold report from their mold inspector, I highly recommend you hire your own reputable, outside person to inspect, don’t just rely on who they use. This is critical—if I had hired someone immediately, it would have cut everything because they would’ve seen the issues and written it up.
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