Ask an Expert

Our landlord misled us about a flood. How can we protect our place?

By Alanna Schubach | February 14, 2022 - 9:35AM 

Unfortunately, it's very difficult to get insurance coverage for the contents of a basement apartment. 

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Question:

When we moved into our basement duplex, the landlord said there had been a minor leak, which had since been fixed. We just found out from a neighbor that the last tenants moved out because a flash flood left two feet of standing water. Should we confront the landlord? Will our insurance protect us from flood damage? Should we add additional coverage?

Answer:

An additional flood policy is a good idea, but it's very difficult to get insurance coverage for basement apartments, our experts say. 

"You need a separate flood policy to cover flooding from rising rain, river, ocean, or lake waters," says Jeffrey Schneider, president of Gotham Brokerage (a Brick sponsor). "FEMA generally does not cover contents in a basement apartment, defined as a floor in which all four corners are below grade. In that case, there is not really an insurance option. If an apartment is below grade all around, contents will not be covered." 

Unfortunately, if you're concerned about flooding from an approaching storm, your best bet is to move all your valuable possessions from the basement level of your apartment to a higher floor to protect them from water damage. And in the aftermath of a flood, proper clean-up is essential for preventing further issues.

"It is important that things dry out thoroughly, usually with the aid of a dehumidifier,"  says pest control expert Gil Bloom, president of Standard Pest Management. "Otherwise, pests like fungus beetles and gnats can become an issue." 

As far as your landlord misleading you, there may be some recourse there. 

"There is a legal doctrine that when someone fraudulently induces you to enter into a contract, one of the remedies is rescission [which allows contractual parties to cancel a contract]," says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations (and FYI, a Brick sponsor). 

But before you break your lease—which means you will need find a new apartment in a competitive market—look into whether the issue that contributed to the flooding has been repaired. 

"It's a potential condition, not an active one," Himmelstein points out, which could make it difficult to break your lease. Instead, he suggests, see if you can have an expert, like a structural engineer, come in and assess whether flooding is likely to recur.

After that, you may have grounds to pressure your landlord to make some fixes, and avoid ending up with two feet of water in your apartment the next time there's a storm. 


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