Some Acts of God Are Better Than Others; Jordan Rose and Court Rich’s uncle Bert opines in the Wall Street Journal

By Bert Stratton | Wall Street Journal

An enormous oak fell onto one of the apartment buildings I own. There was no water damage or burst pipes at the building. That was the beautiful part. Also, nobody was hurt. Eighteen windows were knocked out, plus there was extensive roof and gutter damage. The building is a 1920s brick cube, most likely constructed by immigrant Italian masons. The building took the tree hit like Marciano.

My commercial property insurance has a $5,000 deductible. That’s unfortunately high. “Unfortunately” as in “Unfortunately, this was an act of God.” That’s what the insurance adjustor told me.

She also said the cleanup and repair were all on me, even though the tree had fallen from my neighbor’s property—a former funeral-home mansion turned office building. The owner of that building followed up: “Because of the gale force winds, this is labeled an Act of God. In Ohio that means the property the tree lands on is the property responsible for damages and cleaning it up.”

I thought to myself, “God has an Ohio policy?” I was screwed. The building needs brickwork along the roof parapet wall, gutter work, the 18 new windows, tree removal and emergency board-up.

My one saving grace—I repeat— no water leaks. In the rental business, it’s almost always about water. Water goes wherever it wants. It’s not carpet.

A moonlighting fireman once did some roof repair for me and didn’t scope out the weather report too well. A thunderstorm caught him and his crew way off guard. My tenants had to choose between sleeping in soaked beds that night and going to a hotel. I paid for all those hotel rooms.

Then I had to deal with the fireman. He called me the day after the flood: “How you doing?”

“Could be better,” I said.

“I know what you mean,” he said.

We went around like that—like laconic Midwestern farmers—for weeks until his insurance company finally paid.

I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain. I’ve saved fire for last. You get religion real fast when you’re standing in an apartment that looks like a burnt marshmallow. An elderly tenant lit his suite up with a cigar butt that he inadvertently left smoldering in an upholstered chair. Nobody died. I didn’t let the smoker back. He was a nice guy, but I was afraid he’d relight.

This time around, with the fallen tree, I’m fairly calm. No water damage, no fire, no injuries. And I’ve said “God” repeatedly in business conversation. Not as profanity either.

Mr. Stratton is author of the blog Klezmer Guy: Real Music & Real Estate.

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