By Todd Quinones
BRIGANTINE, NJ (CBS) — Sandy’s wake left behind more than just a mangled mess of ruined drywall and soaked furniture. It’s now putting renters and landlords at odds over who should pay.
“We cried when we saw what went on there,” Brigantine resident Irene Leehan said.
“It’s heartless, he’s preying on the weak at this point. We have nowhere to live,” Brigantine resident Tom Leehan said.
Tom and Irene Leehan say the home they were renting was flooded. Water marks can be seen in the walls and ceilings. They say their furniture and carpets were ruined, which reduced their 11-year-old daughter to tears.
“My daughter’s drawers, when you pull them out, all her clothes were all soaked,” Irene said.
The Leehans were shocked when they received a letter from their landlord that says that, as of November 5th, they were now late with the rent, and they would be fined $50 — plus an additional $10 per day – because the $1300 for November’s rent wasn’t paid.
But Sandy hit October 29th, and the Leehans haven’t lived in the home since.
As Brigantine’s Fire Chief, Jim Holl is in charge of rental inspections. Pointing to New Jersey’s tenants’ rights, he says that statewide, it’s illegal to collect rent if the home is not habitable.
“If your apartment has been flooded out and your furniture is wet and your floors are wet from salt water, that would make it not habitable,” Holl said.
Government inspectors have yet to look at the home, but the Leehans claim they were told by FEMA that they could not live here.
When we contacted the Leehans’ landlords, who live just around the corner from them, they said they had no comment and shut the door.
“It’s not only happening to us. It’s happening to other renters on the island,” Irene Leehan said.
FEMA is now providing renters’ assistance to the Leehans.
Holl says renters should document through bank statements that they had the money at the time to pay rent, but as a general rule, they are within their rights to withhold the money until their home is considered safe and decent.