May 24--Long Branch resident Warren West saw his belongings go up in flames when his Brighton Avenue apartment -- along with part of the block -- burned in February.
"Everything I ever had, pretty much," said West, 36, describing the scope of the loss. "The only thing I had was the stuff in my car. Everything else is gone, so you start all over."
The Feb. 13 fire raced through three buildings in Long Branch's west end, destroying 14 apartments and 10 businesses.
Somewhere among the ashes and debris was West's furniture and clothes. His girlfriend's belongings were destroyed too. Other losses include three pieces of property belonging to Comcast Cable: a high-definition digital video recorder box, a digital cable box and a cable modem.
Now West, a bartender, has a $499.88 bill for the cable company's equipment. His reaction: "Wow."
His mother, Patricia West, reached out to Press on Your Side for help. "I know they have every right to do this, but I've been trying to get someone to show some compassion and waive that fee," she wrote in an email.
In a telephone interview, Warren West said he did not have renter's insurance. "I moved into that place a long time ago," he said. "It's been through hurricanes and storms and everything you think of, but I never thought to get renter's insurance."
West said there has to be a way in which Comcast doesn't charge the full price for the cable boxes. "It's an accident that happened," he said.
"It's not that I shouldn't pay for it, because I should, I guess," West said. "I don't feel like I should have to pay $500 for a couple of boxes that got destroyed in a fire. It just seems like a lot of money."
Press on Your Side reached out to Comcast. Typically, Comcast's customers are charged a monthly rental fee for the equipment in their home and are responsible when it's lost, destroyed or stolen. The policy is in the company's annual notice to customers and in its price schedule.
"Customers are responsible for equipment in the home but we fully understand that the period following a fire can be very trying for those affected," Comcast spokesman Jeff Alexander said in a statement.
"Loss of equipment is generally covered by insurance, but it's not uncommon for us to make individual accommodations for a customer."
Comcast stopped billing for service on the day of the fire, but West will have to pay for the equipment even if payments are spread out, the company said. "In this case, we will provide a grace period so Mr. West can address costs via a payment plan.
"Also, should he be ready in the future to transfer services to a new address, we will install the service free of charge -- no installation, activation or setup fees," Alexander said.
West was disappointed. "I didn't expect them to be like, 'It's going to be $500 for your two cable boxes' that probably cost them five bucks a piece to make or buy themselves, especially with people living in an apartment building, not owning your own home, not having insurance like that," he said. "They obviously don't care about anybody enough to make exceptions."
Still, the ability to pay over time will help, he said.
After the fire, West and his girlfriend moved into an apartment on Mathilda Terrace near Ocean Avenue in Long Branch. Friends and family helped out. There were fundraisers to help pay expenses.
"Everyone tried to pitch in as much as they could," West said. The couple also had money saved.
They've had to buy clothes, furniture, a bed. "Anything you can think of that you have in your house that you still even to this day might not even think about," West said.
For instance, one day they wanted toast for breakfast, but no longer had a toaster.
Also, West now has renter's insurance.
Even if you rent an apartment or house, you should have insurance.
"As a renter, you have the same concerns about your physical possessions. Why not protect them?" said Kenneth R. Auerbach, managing director and general counsel at E&K Agency Inc. in Eatontown and Lakewood.
Typically, coverage starts around $200 and goes to upward of $1,000 a year. Besides your belongings, the coverage can also pay for the cost of a hotel room or storage of your belongings after a fire, he said.
"It's not just the cable box and your clothes and furniture. It's also the liability (coverage) you have for a variety of things," such as a slip-and-fall accident in the home, Auerbach said. "If that happens in your apartment, that is a huge exposure."
Do you have a consumer problem that needs solving? The Press is on your side! Contact reporter David P. Willis and he will try to help. Reach him at: 732-643-4042; email pressonyourside@
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