It’s the worst thing that can happen when you’re living in an apartment: the landlord — the person you pay for shelter — is responsible for damage to your possessions. Maybe the management is at fault for a burst pipe, or perhaps for a fire. If you don’t have renter’s insurance, it may seem as if you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.
But you do have an option: you can negotiate with your landlord to cover part or all of the damages. Janet Portman, the author of Every Tenant’s Legal Guide, says that landlords have a legal responsibility to compensate tenants for damage that is the apartment management’s fault. It’s just a matter of asking your landlord.
Ruth E. Thaler-Carter dealt with such a situation first hand in an apartment in Baltimore, Maryland: her landlord had arranged to have a microwave installed, but the maintenance man botched the job. The microwave fell, breaking a number of items sitting on the kitchen cabinet. “It was a huge mess as well as a terrible fright — it really made a loud noise as it all went flying! As soon as I caught my breath and calmed down, I took a photo of the mess. Then, I called the front desk and had the doorman come down to see the damage, since this occurred after 5 p.m.”
Ruth made sure that the doorman could corroborate her claim, as well as documenting the damage herself with a written list of damaged items and photographs. She even made an estimate of the amount she would need to replace everything. When she took her claim to the apartment manager, she was able to get $250.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, try to follow Ruth’s example. If you can provide documentation of the problem, you will have a much easier time convincing your landlord to cover the damages. You should also go in with a clear idea of what you want: a specific dollar amount, perhaps, or a discount on your rent.
If your landlord is unwilling to compensate you for damages, you have a few options — moving out, small claims court — although they may be too extreme in all situations. You should also remember that your landlord has no obligation to cover damages that were not his fault. Problems stemming from the actions of other tenants or outside individuals will be very difficult to get reparation for if you do not have renter’s insurance.