Flooding fiasco leaves Portland family in lurch

Flooding fiasco leaves Portland family in lurch »Play Video
The floor of a couple's Southeast Portland apartment was destroyed after several gallons of water leaked from an upstairs unit.

PORTLAND, Ore. -- A Portland couple feels left in the lurch by their landlord after they say he was reluctant to repair their apartment following a flooding fiasco, which made the apartment unlivable.

Marcus Shaffer said several gallons of water leaked from an upstairs unit of the Lynn Park apartments, located at Southeast Powell Boulevard and flooded his apartment one week ago. Shaffer shares the apartment with his fiancée, Andrea Keck, and their two young children, ages one and three.

"(It was) like a pool broke and just flooded through the ceiling - a hot tub - like that much water," Shaffer said, while giving the On Your Side Investigators a tour of his apartment. "I cleaned like three inches of standing water."

The apartment is indeed a mess. The family's belongings are everywhere, Shaffer said, thanks to cleaning crews who moved them to make room for more than a dozen dryers and dehumidifiers to soak up the water.

But that's not the worst part.

"We have no toilet. Our floor's completely rotted out. Look at this! My kid could fall through here," Shaffer said, stepping on what appeared to be rotted floorboards in his bathroom.

Shaffer believed the flood was due to faulty plumbing work and claimed the plumbers were unlicensed. KATU could not immediately confirm those details with the landlord.

Following the flood, Keck said her family had no running water and no electricity, which meant their refrigerated food spoiled and they couldn't use kitchen appliances, like the stove, to cook.

"As you can see, ceilings are removed, there's no carpet, there's no floor really," Shaffer said. "It's unlivable."

Shaffer said the landlord, Feimun Lum, told him the apartment was tolerable to live in.

"(The landlord) said, 'Oh it's livable. You can use the stove and you can go up to the bathroom at Safeway,' and I was very unhappy with that," Shaffer said.

Shaffer's family lived in the waterlogged apartment for two days "to make do" but ultimately couldn't handle the conditions, which Shaffer said were also making his children sick. On Monday, Keck told KATU she brought her children to the doctor after she said they had symptoms they were sick.

Shaffer said he paid Lum the $750 a month rent for April but since his family couldn't live there, demanded Lum pay for the family to stay at a hotel.

The On Your Side Investigators confirmed Lum did pay for two hotels - the first didn't have a kitchenette, which Keck felt was required to cook for her family - but Shaffer claims Lum only paid after he contacted the insurance company.

"I kept calling and basically harassing him and getting on his case about this," Shafer said. "It's your responsibility as our landlord. We pay you rent to provide us shelter with a kitchenette and the basic amenities that we had here."

The On Your Side Investigators made several attempts to reach Lum, including leaving several messages on his home phone, the only number the family had for him. A second tenant, who lived next door to Shaffer, said he too only had the one home phone number to contact Lum.

KATU finally reached Lum by phone Monday afternoon and he confirmed the flood but insisted he was working diligently to fix the problems.

"The problem is being worked on now," Lum told KATU. "I'm confident what we're doing is the correct thing."

Lum said he had turned everything over to Farmers Insurance and instructed KATU to contact the insurance agent working on the case, at which point Lum insisted he didn't want to provide any more information.

KATU contacted the insurance agent but that person said he could not comment. He then forwarded our questions and a company spokesperson, Luis Sahagún, called KATU back.

Sahagún, who is based out of Los Angeles, said the agency is investigating Shaffer's case.

Sahagún said that repair work was being done on the unit above Shaffer's, but that the water burst and caused water damage to some of the family's property.

Sahagún said when Shafer and Keck informed Farmers, who insures Lum, that they did not have a credit card to pay for a hotel, Lum agreed to pay with his own credit card.

It's an uncertain future for Shafer and his family. For them, there's no telling how long they'll have to live out of a hotel before, or if, they'll be able to move back into their apartment.

"This is not OK," Shaffer said.

The On Your Side Investigators also reached out to attorney Troy Pickard of Portland Defender Law Office, who specializes in landlord tenant issues. He is not involved in the case but said it’s not uncommon for landlords to expect tenants to live in situations they themselves would not live in.

Based on what he knew of Shaffer’s situation, he said the landlord is legally responsible to provide habitable living for the family or otherwise pay for substitute housing.

Pickard said a tenant’s best weapon is often refusing to pay rent, although he said he would not advise withholding payment without legal representation.

Pickard said landlords often bully tenants because tenants often don’t know their rights. He encouraged people to contact the Community Alliance of Tenants (CAT). According to its website, CAT is Oregon’s only statewide, grassroots, tenant-controlled, tenant-rights organization.

They have a Renters Rights Hotline: 503-288-0130.

The On Your Side Investigators will continue to look into this case and update with more details as they arise.