Filing a homeowners insurance claim is something most people don’t like to think about, but there are times when things go wrong with single-family homes, townhouses and condos that require a claim.
I had to file a claim for damage to my Atlanta condo recently and my unpreparedness led to a series of costly mistakes. Here’s my story…
Homeowners insurance claim mistake: How it all started
I got a text message from one of my downstairs neighbors the morning of July 27 that said I needed to come home to let the plumber he hired access my unit for leak detection.
My neighbor was in the process of selling his condo and there was significant water damage from an unknown leak.
Plumber: Your kitchen needs to be gutted
When I arrived home, my neighbor was visibly frustrated over the situation. The plumber requested access to my unit and I complied. He turned on the faucet in my kitchen and water began pouring into my neighbor’s unit.
The plumber who my neighbor hired — not me — then went around my unit trying to find the busted pipe.
He first drilled a large hole in my bathroom and then drilled a smaller hole in the kitchen. He said the kitchen would need to be gutted by a contractor before he could access the pipe to make the repairs.
Here are pictures of the holes the plumber made in my walls:
Paying for my neighbor’s leak detection
Before leaving for the day without completing any repairs, the plumber collected $807 for leak detection. I paid this bill because I felt ambushed by my neighbor who had said it was my responsibility.
That is one of the mistakes I made during the process, but it’s not the reason I’m writing this article…
While the plumber was running around my house with a chainsaw and cutting holes in the walls, he repeatedly interrupted me as I scrambled to find my insurance policy and call them up.
My downstairs neighbor also was in the way and prevented me from getting this task accomplished.
Insurance: Don’t let them rip out your kitchen
When they left, I got through to my insurance company and started a claim. My adjuster called back promptly and said a local adjuster would be coming by for a fact-finding mission.
My main adjuster called on Wednesday and said we’d talk the next day. I didn’t hear from her again until the following Monday.
The local adjuster came out on Friday and didn’t like the idea of gutting the kitchen to access the pipe. My building’s manager also questioned the need to rip out the kitchen cabinets and countertop.
When Saturday rolled around, a foul smell and flies began to emerge from the area of my kitchen near the leak.
The insurance adjuster is MIA
As living conditions in the unit deteriorated rapidly, my main adjuster was unresponsive. She said she would call back on Thursday and never did. I left a message for her supervisor over the weekend.
I hesitated to call a new plumber without the OK from insurance because they were against ripping out the kitchen to access the pipe.
Calling my main adjuster’s supervisor did the trick. She began responding to my calls and emails, so I was able to hire a plumber of my own to take a look at the situation. He was recommended by the building manager.
New plumber: No kitchen gut job necessary
The new plumber managed to access the leaking pipe by cutting through the back of the kitchen cabinets — not tearing them out.
In other words, the recommendation from the first plumber to hire a contractor to remove the kitchen countertop and cabinets was completely unnecessary.
The plumber said the leak involved a common pipe, so the homeowner’s association would pick up the bill.
Before he left, the plumber offered an explanation for a trashy odor and flies in the kitchen. He said the problems would go away with the bad pipe removed.
Then I found a dead rat…
Ten days after the first plumber cut holes in my wall, I hired a drywall contractor to repair them and two new holes that the second plumber had to cut.
The smell and flies persisted in this vicinity, so I decided to pull the stove from the wall and found a new problem: a dead rat.
From what I’ve been able to piece together, my building manager had someone set bait boxes for rats a few days before the leak was detected and those holes were cut in my walls.
I now believe that the rat came inside my unit after those holes were cut, likely that every evening.
First plumber: A contract is a contract
Are you keeping up with this nightmare? I’m so frustrated because I feel like I would never have needed to get insurance involved if I didn’t meet the plumber who my neighbor hired.
His work and recommendation about the kitchen led to a delay in the repairs — and perhaps invited a rat inside my home.
When I called the customer service department of the first plumber, they told me that “a contract is a contract” and they couldn’t reverse the $807 bill that I voluntarily paid.
I’ve disputed this bill with my credit card company, but I haven’t heard back yet.
The key takeaway
There are so many things that I wish I would have done differently throughout this ordeal, but it all goes back to the unpreparedness that I mentioned at the top of this article.
Nobody wants to think about things going wrong, so they’re often not ready when those emergencies pop up.
I always carry my car insurance information with me in my wallet, but I didn’t have my home insurance policy number or coverage details in an easy-to-find location.
I wish that I would have been able to call my home insurer and property manager before the plumber plugged in his chainsaw.
Going forward, I now have the name and numbers for those two key contacts in my cell phone, written on a sheet of paper that I keep in my wallet and uploaded to Google Drive.
When I was ambushed by my neighbor, I panicked and made all the wrong decisions. Don’t let it happen to you!