Contained in this narrative are various events and or meetings. The following is a list which will allow the reader to skip to that section of the narative.
Fire on Friendship
Awakened by the ringing phone, I stumbled around in the dark looking for the remote receiver. Before I could find it a message was being left on the machine. The caller was gone. The recording was of Gilbert Fernandes. There were tears in his voice. He said, "Stan, there’s a fire at the club. It’s bad. Call me back."
Pacing aimlessly I returned a message to his machine. He’d
been speaking on his cell phone from his truck. I flopped back down
on the bed beside Glennis. "It was Gilbert. The business
is burning. It’s serious. I don’t know what to do."
Four months pregnant, she was out of bed and dressed prompting me. "Hurry.
You have to go there."
In sixteen years I had made the trip in the dark countless times down Warwick Avenue and then Broad Street. Only one other time did I know that the alarm was not false. The seven mile ride was at once too long and too short.
The closest parking spot available was around the corner on Broad Street from the business in front of General Armature’s parking lot. There were at least a half dozen fire trucks. The fire was out. Several men were still up on ladders. Many were walking amongst the trucks. We crept up to the building and looked into the 486 door. A tall blond haired fireman asked me if there was anyone in the building. A man from the next building had told them that a women lived up there.
We turned and half ran back to the pay phone in the next block. I dialed Mack’s. Lorpu answered. "Thank God you are there, Lorpu. Your house burned." "Is it bad?" she asked. "Very bad."
Glennis got back into the car. I went back around the corner toward the fire. I was handed a business card. "You the owner?" I affirmed. "You’re going to be busy now. Go ahead. We’ll talk after."
I found the fireman who had asked if some one was in the building and told him she was safe at her nephew’s. Another fireman explained it started right here indicating the 486 entrance to the stairway up to the apartments. "When we got here that door was wide open."
The door to that entrance was laying with the inside face up. I asked where was the dead bolt. Four screws that formerly fastened the dead bolt lock to the door were screwed into the steel door. It was as if the lock had been removed but the screws were returned to the holes not to become lost. The fireman assured me that they had not removed them. All the other doors were broken open. The dead bolts were ripped and bent. Some investigator was called to observe the 486 door.
Gilbert returned walking from the north, the opposite direction from which I had parked. We were joined by the gentleman who had handed me the card. He introduced himself as Craig Martin. He, and separately a fireman, explained that we needed to arrange for a "board up". Craig asked us if we’d looked inside yet. He called to a fireman and they led the way into the business level from the back door. The fireman suggested that we get any cash that was in the register out. As we glanced around the soggy mess with flash lights several conversations took place.
Craig explained that we needed to do a board up. He explained
that the insurance company took care of that bill and that it was above
and beyond the coverage of the losses. He said his company did that
or we could do that ourselves.
A fireman, in a separate conversation also explained that we needed to get some one to board up the building. He pointed at a passing truck. "That’s what they do." He said that there are a number of companies that do that. He nodded in Craig’s direction and recommended him.
Gilbert and I discussed the idea. Neither of us were interested
in doing it ourselves. We hired Craig. Guys were busy on the
A fireman recommended that we go down and talk to the investigators. He suggested we go together. An investigator told us he’d see us down at the police station in a half an hour. Craig said he’d watch things while we were gone and would be there to talk to us when we returned.
At the station Gilbert and I were separated. I was interviewed
first. The questions were routine. Two guys in casual clothing
blue jeans etc. Asked questions in a very informal manner.
One punched the computer keyboard using the hunt and peck system.
Two fingers. Maybe a third hit something once in a while. The
delete, backspace, and arrow keys were probably warmer from use than the
They started with my name and address, covered my relationship to Gilbert and to Mona, the building owner. They asked if there was anyone who had threatened me. I told them of a former tenant, who had called me with a threat and then softened it to a threat of a suit. He is the only person I could think of then or now who might have done me harm. At the end of the hour long interview they presented me with the document to read and sign. Some where in the first couple sentences was a statement to the effect of, "as you know the fire in question was set…" It was a phrase never verbalized before they actually asked the first question. I remarked that I never heard them say that. One said to the other. "He didn’t hear us say…"
I signed the statement. A cruiser gave me a ride back to the building while Gilbert was being interviewed. The officer driving lamented the death of the Colonel.
Back at the building there was a lot of pounding going on.
There was nothing for me to do. It was freezing cold. I sat
in Craig Martin’s 4 X 4 waiting Gilbert’s return.
Craig explained to me that he was a public adjuster and how he got started. I had never heard of a public adjuster. He explained how he had experienced a kitchen fire in his own home. The insurance company had offered him an amount that would not really cover the restoration. A public adjuster with experience had represented his case to the company resulting in a claim three or four hundred percent higher than the inadequate offer.
I had never experienced a fire before. It took little convincing for me to mistrust the company. Somewhere, unlike in the commercials on TV, it is someone’s job to pay out as little as possible on any given claim. I had experienced Blue Cross and Horace Mann’s life insurance.
Gilbert had been grilled longer and harder than I had. When he returned it was almost noon. He was unclear on what coverage he had arranged. He listened to Craig’s appeal and with my recommendation we hired Craig Martin to represent our claim. Craig told us that claims such as this usually took approximately three months.
First View of the Damage
The following Monday I happened to be driving by the building.
Some one was walking around taking pictures. Another van pulled into
the parking lot and out of curiosity I watched from across the street.
Brian Mockenhaupt was doing a story from the Providence Journal on public
adjusters. I stayed around for the first tour of the building.
A generator was used to provide light. We filed up the back staircase.
The front one was gone. From the fourth floor you could look down
all the way to the street level landing.
The room next to that front stair space had been the fourth floor kitchen. Just inside the door was a piece of sheet metal. The only way I knew it had been the refrigerator was that that is where the refrigerator had stood. The built in cabinet and sink that wrapped around in a u shape was gone. So was the floor on which it stood. It was the first kitchen I had remodeled in the building. The double stainless steel sink set in the Formica counter top was all gone. Not the kind you buy pre-made stuck on pressed wood. The kind of Formica you contact cement to plywood and bevel rout the edges.
A creditor once stopped by with a friend who was a plumber soon after the kitchen was complete and suggested that I should be a cabinet maker and not a restaurateur. Kitchens and bathrooms make an apartment. We never had any trouble renting that apartment for $450 a month once we made it into a three bedroom. Later the journal writer quoted me in his article. "I never thought it would end like this." He had but a faint notion of my meaning.
In the Spring still no news. "It won’t be long now."
The three months went by. Gilbert and I are in frequent contact. In March and April I began to hear that it would not be long now. The settlement would be done. There were two separate parts to the claim: The business equipment and the building. Gilbert was having difficulties with the claim on the business. He had hired an attorney to assist with that part of the claim. Each time we spoke I asked what was happening with the building part of the claim. Gilbert presumed it was all right. The damage far exceeded the coverage. Each time he admonished me to give Craig a call. From April to July sometimes I called Craig’s office twice a week. Sometimes more than two weeks would go by without my making a call. Never once was a call returned.
One morning I received a call from Craig. "Stan who owns
that Friendship Street building?" Mona Washington who is my
ex-wife Cecelia’s daughter, I told him. The company claims she is
not named on the policy. I knew she was and he asked me to fax the
I had personally gone to the agents office and asked her to photocopy portions of the lease agreement that pertained to insuring the building. I called and she confirmed that Mona was named on the application. She noted that the company had first omitted it, and she had them make the correction.
The next day Gilbert provided me with a copy. I faxed it over to Craig.
He told me if the fax didn’t come through he’d call me right back.
Thirty minutes later I called to see if it came through. Craig had
already left. I didn’t hear again from him for weeks.
Business settlement. Building "won’t be long now."
After Gilbert made his settlement with the assistance of his lawyer, I called regularly. When I didn’t get a return call I called the adjuster representing the company, Jeff Gorman. Gilbert had given me the number.
Mr. Gorman was not at liberty to tell me anything. The matter was in the hands of Attorney Hines. I should wait and as soon as he heard something he would forward it to Mr. Martin who is the person from whom I should hear it.
More than a week went by. No one called me. I called Attorney John Hines. Mr. Hines asked me to wait another week, ten days at most. He said a quite reasonable offer was ready and would be going to Mr. Gorman, who would in turn send it to Mr. Martin. I should then hear it from Mr. Martin.
After a week I called. Mr. Martin. He was not in and did not return my call. I then called Mr. Gorman. Mr. Gorman said the offer had already gone to Craig Martin. He would place a call to Mr. Martin.
Generali Insurance Company makes an offer
The following day, a Friday, Craig called me. He had the report.
He was "tied up" at the time and calling me on the go.
I should call his office and make an appointment to see him on Monday.
His secretary gave me a noon appointment August 3, 1998.
When I entered the office he spoke as if I already knew what the offer was. I asked what it was. He said they are offering $69,000. I said that was ridiculous. Without hesitation he began explaining the company’s right to evaluate the building based on comparable buildings in the area when a building’s value is really less than the insured value. He explained the rationale with an example of a person insuring a building for $350,000 when it’s value is less than a $100,000. In such a case he said the insurance company could settle for the figure under $100,000.
I responded with a question and many facts.
What buildings did they use?
I told him I knew better than that. I had just taken a SWAP course
on buying a house and was actively looking for a multi-unit in the area.
I had looked at buildings that were much less substantial than that and
cost more. I pointed out that this was a building commercially zoned
with five rental units besides the commercial floor. I told him that
if the building did not have the aluminum siding it would qualify as an
He opened his file and looked at the beautiful picture of the building. "Yeah. If it had a plaque on it, it would be worth a lot."
He made a phone call. How was the figure if $69,000 reached? They were applying the right to evaluate on the basis of comparable property weren’t they? No. He didn’t need to know the license number of Richard’s appraisal company. The taxable value (by the city) was $89,000. Subtract the value of the land and depreciation and the result is $69,000. Craig and the caller joked that they had come all the way from zero to sixty-nine. I remarked that it was never zero. The statement was stupid.
Craig said he could get back to the company and ask for another ten thousand. Maybe they would raise it another five.
When I got back home I had a question. When I called Craig had already left. I called again the following morning. No call was ever returned.
Complaint to the State Division of Insurance
I wrote a letter to the Department of Business Regulation, Insurance Division (see appendix A).
At the end of the second week of August Craig Martin called me with
the news that the company had raised the offer to $81,000. I made
several points during the phone conversation. It would be difficult
to accept because after 10% was deducted the price of the building "as
is" per our agreement with Mr. Fernandes would be prohibitive.
All of the principals were out of the country. Mona Washington and
her mother were in Sweden. Gilbert was in Cape Verde. Ultimately
the decision was not mine. I promised to consult them and get back
to him as soon as they returned.
A couple times during August I made follow up calls to Raymond Boisse at the Insurance Division to keep aware of any developments. At times Mr. Boisse was busy. He always returned my calls. Each time he had heard nothing. He was unavailable when I called on September 3, 1998. I wrote a follow up letter and posed two more questions.(see appendix B)
Generali Insurance responds
Later that day (coincidentally) I received a letter from Mr. Boisse. It contained his letter closing the case and a photocopy of the long awaited response from attorney Hines. Mr. Hines communicated that the company had increased the offer. Craig Martin found it equitable and that I concurred.
My quandary deepened and my aggravation intensified. The representatives of the company would give me no information. They insisted on my getting it from Mr. Martin. Mr. Martin wouldn’t return my calls. He didn’t have all the information. And someone was misrepresenting my position.
I wrote letters to all. Mr. Boisse, Mr. Martin, and Mr. Hines. (see appendices C, D, E respectively)
Neither Mr. Hines nor Mr. Martin responded. Mr. Boisse called
Mr. Boisse made clear to me that he had no power to make any ruling nor to enforce any element of any contract. The Division of Insurance can only make an inquiry. He had received the copies of my letters and if the company did not respond he would inquire.
I wrote to Attorney Hines requesting the data used to make the assessments. (see appendix F)
Meeting at the Adjusters Office
After three weeks I called Jeff Gorman to see if the data I had requested was forth coming. He made an appointment for me to meet with him and Attorney Hines at 9:00 AM, October 6, 1998. He asked me to get Craig Martin to withdraw from the case in writing. Mr. Martin was again unavailable to talk with me. The day before our meeting Mr. Gorman called to tell me that Mr. Martin would not withdraw. He was out of town. His partner was invited to attend the meeting.
Attorney Hines, and Jeff Gorman were joined by Mr. Anthony Rourke of the Adjusting agency.
Attorney Hines asserted that the Richard Appraisal Company had completed a comprehensive and thorough report. This was the basis of the original offer. He would be happy to make the report available to me. Several times he fanned the pages of the half inch thick volume emphasizing that it was comprehensive and thorough. He needed a faxed statement from Mona Washington authorizing the action. Ironically he did not need the same authorization to submit the report to L’Europa and Martin. It was I who signed that contract. (see apppendix G)
Mr. Rourke explained to me the concept that allowed a company
to depreciate a building. A tiled floor or wall installed newly has
a value. Over time walking on the floor wears it, and it depreciates
accordingly. The wall would wear less and similarly depreciate less.
Attorney Hines explained that the company raised the evaluation from $69,000 to $80,000 as a gesture of compromise in light of the appraisal of Deborah A’Vant. It was also determined that the company learned of the appraisal as a result of the letter Mr. Boisse forwarded from me.
I asserted that the value they had reached was deflated. If I could see what the comparable properties were and what methods were used I could demonstrate the true value.
I asked Attorney Hines how the method of resolving the differences
worked and how long that would take. He explained that their chosen
appraiser would meet with our chosen appraiser to choose a third appraiser
who would work with the former two and offer a resolution. He also
pointed out that going to that process would eliminate the compromise offer
and reinstate the Richard appraisal. He said at the outside it would
take six months.
Mr. Rourke asked me what I needed to settle. I replied that I needed a settlement that would allow the sale of the property to Gilbert Fernandes to be completed. He suggested that if the company offered a net of $85,000 and if I could negotiate a reduction of the fee from L’Eropa & Martin this could be achieved. I had already made known my intention to re-negotiate that.
The Richard Appraisal
The Richard appraisal is constructed from a template. It
lists three ways to compute an evaluation. A conclusion is then synthesized
from the three.
Once an approach is chosen values are inserted into formulas and the result is computed.
The Sales Comparison was chosen. From the sky or some other arbitrary source two figures appear: "Based on the characteristics of the subject property and the comparables, the price per unit is selected as the relevant unit of comparison and the basis of the comparative analysis. The unadjusted price unit indicators range from $45,000 to $50,000."
The source of these figures remains a mystery to the reader. They are the definition of the term arbitrary.
The Income Approach was the second approach chosen. It is the easiest to demonstrate to have arrived at a false conclusion by inserting arbitrary (erroneous) figures.
"The actual rents for the subject property were not available at the time of the appraisal." FALSE.
The actual rent of the commercial floor has been $1,000 for two years and was on the date of the fire. (It could have been even higher.) The lease agreement could have been supplied.
More over the properties across the street:
514 Broad Street $1000 store
512 Broad Street $450 three bedroom apartment
510 Broad Street $400 two bed room apartment
498 Broad Street $500 store
500 Broad Street $500 store
502 Broad Street $500 store
Source: West Broadway Real Estate (see Appendix H). Each of these stores are but a fraction of the floor space size of 488 Friendship Street.
Further up Broad Street Elea’s African Restaurant occupies space a third the size of 488 Friendship Street. Rent: $1000 a month.
Apartments 2 and 4 rent for $400 per month. Apartments 1 and 3 rent for $300 per month. Apartment 5 the fourth floor rented for $450. I have signed leases to document that the above named rents were effective until we asked the tenants to move at Gilbert Fernandes’ request. Those rent amounts are further documented independently by contacting Tenaco Properties who frequently supplied renters. They call us even today seeking vacant apartments. Furthermore our annual income statements and Checking account deposits will verify real rent.
Replace the arbitrarily chosen rents as listed on the left with
the actual rents on the right.
Unit Arbitrary Real
Market rents Rents
|Richard arbitrary||Real Documented|
Multiply each figure by 12 to determine (P.G.I.)
Less vacancy and collection Loss 15%
|Real Estate Taxes||$1,966||$1,966|
|Net Operating Income||$8,722||$18,658|
|Estimated market value
via Income approach
*Please note these figures are accurate and replace the figures1045,1045, and 630 which appear on the report.
1045 is 5% of 20900
630 is 3% of 21000
Of course mathematical errors diminish in significance when dealing with arbitrarily chosen numbers.
Therefore the real indicated value of the subject property via the
Finally the Cost Approach was declared NA. Not applicable.
It is quite likely that I spent more time criticizing the Richard Appraisal than was taken to produce it. $150,000 has been offered to us but the offer came while the lease agreement with Mr. Fernandes was already in force.
Meeting with Mr. L’Europa
Bill L’Europa called me and made an appointment to see me Thursday, October 8,1998. He said he was the president of the company. He would take care of me. He was upset with Craig’s handling of the case.
He opened with the question what did the company offer, $80,000? I agreed. He countered, "Well it’s $85,000. " I agreed again. He stated that he was more angry with Craig than I was.
I informed him I was asking for a take back. I asked them to take 5% of the $69,000 that Craig Martin had seemed to justify to me. I explained that the company’s compromise offer was a result of my letter to Mr. Boisse issuing the A’Vant appraisal. I reminded him that Craig would never return my calls. I reminded him that at one point he, Bill L’europa had told me, "Give me the day. I’ll have Craig call." Craig did not call that day. I had only the information I could get from Jeff Gorman.
I also pointed out that Craig had not only NOT represented me. He misrepresented me to Mr. Gorman when he indicated that I found the offer of $80,000 equitable. I told him that I wrote the dismissal letter to Craig to get information from the company for the first time. At a bear minimum it would put me in the same room with Jeff Gorman and Craig. I emphasized that at no time did I expect that his company not be paid for the work completed.
I told him that I had considered doing the appraiser arbitration, but it would take too long. He said the entire process would take the twenty days stated in the policy. This conflicts with Attorney Hines’.
He declared he’d take 10% of $69,000. At one point he said he would accept $6,000. Then he went back on that and offered to take $6000 plus the board up cost. I stated that he board up cost was not included in the $85,000. In fact the figure is $86,000 less the thousand deductible. $85,000 is net.
He claimed that the company was playing a numbers game with me the board up was included. I asked what if I could document that the board up was not included. Bill would not answer that question. The meeting concluded with his assertion that the board up cost was included. Bill asked me to call him on Monday at 10:00 AM. He was not in Monday. On Tuesday I spoke with the secretary. She contacted him and called me back. His message through her was $6,900 plus board up. She told me to call back the next day and talk to Craig.
When I called back Craig was not in. The message was "put on his desk." Between then and now Craig has never been in (when I called) and never returned my call.
Even if I wanted to accept an offer what is it? How would they know I accepted it?
Plea to L’Eropa & Martin
On November 2, 1998 I wrote to L’Eropa and Martin (see
appendix I) expressing my disappointment
urging them to contact me and threatening to seek assistance from the Better
Business Bureau and the Providence Journal. The entire narrative above
was also sent to them. Two weeks passed. They did not respond. When I called
I spoke with Darlene who described herself as Craig’s assistant. She said
Craig or Bill was soon to meet with Jeff Gorman. She asked me to fax the
lease agreements that verify the amount of rent received at 486-488 Friendship
Street. Another two weeks passed. Both Craig and Bill spoke to me simultaneously.
They asked me to bring to them a copy of the Richard Appraisal. Bill assured
me that he would contact me by that Friday. Two Fridays have come and gone.
Still there is no communication nor action.