WOONSOCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — Kayla Brown and her young son were not at home last month when fire raced up the side of their apartment in Woonsocket.
“You never, ever think it’s going to be your house,” Brown told Call 12 for Action through tears. “This was our family’s house. We’ve been here for two-and-a-half years. Everything is gone.”
The structure on Park Place is still standing, but Brown’s belongings are ruined. She said some were lost to the flames and others were destroyed by smoke and water.
Now Brown and her family are staying with friends while they wait for their landlord to return a $1,000 security deposit.
“We have nowhere to go,” Brown said. “We’re stuck in this situation. Without that money, we can’t do anything and he’s just not giving me my money back.”
John Longo, an attorney who specializes in consumer protection law, said renters have rights following a fire under Rhode Island’s Residential Tenant Landlord Act.
“The law says [the landlord] has to refund the money if you tell him you’re not coming back,” Longo explained. “But [the landlord] still has 20 days to do it.”
In Brown’s case, the clock is ticking on the 20-day timeline. The landlord told Call 12 for Action he will only return Brown’s security deposit when she removes all of her belongings from the property.
“It’s a new story with him every time,” Brown said. “It’s one stress after another.”
Brown said if her landlord does not return the security deposit within the legal timeframe, she will take him to court.
The security deposit is one thing, but a renter’s belongings are another.
“A lot of people are surprised when the landlord doesn’t have to pay for an apartment or damage to their goods unless it’s ultimately determined that the landlord was the cause of the fire,” Longo said. “If it was just an accident or another tenant caused the fire, the tenant is just out of luck.”
That’s why renters’ insurance is so important, according to Longo.
“It’s relatively inexpensive, less than a couple hundred dollars for the year, and it protects you if the property is damaged by a fire,” he said
Right after the fire, Brown and her family had some help from local agencies, but she said it’s not enough to find a new place to call home.