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Ryan Johnson, Published June 17 2013

Water line break highlights need for renters insurance

FARGO – Brittany Ledeman said she woke up to a bad situation on June 9.

A water line broke two doors down from her Fargo apartment, flooding most of the building’s 15 ground-floor units with several inches of water. She was told she needed to get her belongings off the floor so cleanup could begin, and she temporarily moved in with her brother.

Ledeman said the situation got worse a few days later when the company that manages her building called in the morning to say she would need to get everything else out of the cupboards, bedrooms and closets – and that she had been “released” from her lease for the apartment she called home for nearly two years.

Ledeman said she’s not alone, and as far as she knows, the residents of all 15 ground-floor units of Dakota View Estates at 1717 40th St. S. need to look for a new place to live with little help from managing company Hegenes Properties Inc.

A property supervisor for Hegenes said Monday that the company had no comment, other than it is doing what is necessary to repair the affected units.

Lindsey Ohren, a self-sufficiency program coordinator for the Southeastern North Dakota Community Action Agency in Fargo, said she heard from another displaced tenant that 14 of the building’s 15 ground-floor units are “completely unlivable.” The work to replace flooring and portions of the walls destroyed by water could take months.

Ohren said while Hegenes Properties appears to have provided little assistance to the affected renters, it’s likely not a case that would benefit from mediation because there’s no argument that the former tenants can’t go back, at least until the repairs are made.

“I know a lot of possessions were lost, and it’s definitely a renters insurance issue,” Ohren said. “The biggest thing is that these people who are living in apartments need to insure themselves. That’s the best course of action for anyone who is renting.”

Ledeman doesn’t have renters insurance.

She said she moved her belongings into the garage that she pays a separate rent for each month with the hope of using it for storage until she could find her next apartment. That plan changed when the landlord told her to empty the garage by the end of the month so it can be rented to another tenant.

She figures the flooding has already cost her $3,000 to $4,000, a rough estimate that includes her damaged furniture, a ruined camera and video game system that had been on the floor, and the wages she lost when she took time off from her two jobs to move out.

Her roommate, Lacey Frank, lost a couch, textbooks and several pairs of shoes, but didn’t lose as much because she had moved in two weeks before.

Ledeman said she’s been told she will get her deposit back, as well as the rent for July she paid in advance, but she likely won’t get that money back until sometime next month.

Jay Bartley, a State Farm agent in Fargo, said renters insurance is an affordable, customizable coverage that’s often the only thing to help tenants if there’s a fire, vandalism or theft. It doesn’t cover losses to overland flooding.

He said the insurance starts at $7 a month, with rates depending on the dollar amount the tenant needs. A common level of protection offers up to $20,000 of coverage, he said.

Bartley said unlike car insurance, which pays a fair market rate for a vehicle in the case of a claim, renters insurance covers the cost of replacing items. That means if a renter loses a T-shirt in a fire, no matter how old, the policy would pay them enough to buy a new T-shirt.

He said many renters understand the importance of this coverage, and some property management companies now require tenants to carry renters insurance.

The cost of replacing belongings “adds up crazy fast,” Bartley said, and without coverage, a renter can find themselves starting all over.

Ledeman said she’s still considering her options. She said the situation has been disappointing, especially because Hegenes Properties hasn’t offered her a chance to move back into her old apartment when the unit is repaired.

Ohren said it’s a “horrible situation,” but it also should be a reminder for renters to do everything they can to protect themselves. She said one of the other displaced tenants had renters insurance, and while she had to take time off work and go through an unexpected move, her insurance paid for everything.

“It was completely a mistake, a freak thing,” Ohren said of the water break. “But that’s why renters insurance is absolutely critical.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587