Northeast Tarrant

Arlington couple turns to lawyer after furniture damage

Matt and Amy Grondin paid extra for a climate-controlled locker when they stored virtually everything they owned. Now they wish they hadn’t.

“I cried yesterday,” Amy Grondin said the day after she and her husband discovered that mold and water had damaged what the Grondins estimate to be $10,000 worth of bedroom furnishings for their three daughters.

Mattresses, bed frames, bookcases and bedding were ruined. The couple asked the storage facility’s management to take responsibility but were turned away. They’ve since hired an attorney.

Most of the furnishings and household items that the Grondins put into a unit at Public Storage on Rufe Snow Drive in North Richland Hills in mid-April were almost new.

A flood last year that swept through an Arkansas storage warehouse destroyed about 80 percent of their possessions during a previous move. But the moving company replaced those items.

“I never thought this would happen again,” Amy Grondin said.

About two months ago, a malfunction in the air-conditioning system dumped water into the Grondins’ unit and several others at Public Storage. The AC was repaired and the water was removed from around the units.

But the Grondins weren’t told that their stuff had been soaked. So everything stayed wet.

“The right thing to do would have been to notify us two months ago when this happened,” Matt Grondin said.

The Grondins closed on a house in Arlington on Halloween and began moving in this month. They had transferred half of the storage unit’s contents before they noticed that some items had spots of mold and others were falling apart.

Deja vu spurred the Grondins into action.

They immediately went to the on-site manager, who referred them to the regional vice president, who referred them to the chief operating officer, Shawn Weidmann, who suggested they call the company that had sold them insurance when they put the items in storage, Matt Grondin said.

“We had $3,000 worth of insurance [arranged when they rented the unit], which won’t cover the damages and would leave us with a $100 deductible,” Matt Grondin said. “We think we shouldn’t be responsible for anything.”

The rental contract signed by the Grondins has a good liability limitation, said their attorney, Justin Jeter of Chester and Jeter in Dallas.

“The contract basically says you’re not putting anything worth more than $5,000 in [the storage unit] and [Public Storage] is not going to be liable for anything more than $5,000,” Jeter said.

But all may not be lost, said Richard Alderman, director of the Center for Consumer Law at the University of Houston Law Center.

“They could argue that while the contract eliminates liability for the leak, the obligation to act reasonably and inform them of the leak is separate. And if they were negligent, they could be liable,” Alderman said.

Jeter said that’s where the Grondins’ hopes lie. The rental agreement does indeed protect Public Storage against all claims of loss from any cause unless the loss is directly caused by the company’s fraud.

The chapter of the Texas Property Codes dealing with self-service storage facilities says a renter may sue for damages under the Deceptive Trade Practices — Consumer Protection Act.

“In Texas … you can’t limit your liability for fraud,” Jeter said. “You have a duty if people are relying on what you’re telling them or not telling them and you’re intentionally deceiving or misleading someone. That’s what I’m looking at.”

The renters of all other units affected by the malfunctioning air conditioner have been notified, said Weidmann, whose corporate office is in Glendale, Calif.

“I don’t have an exact date” when the other renters were told, Weidmann said. “I don’t have an exact number of renters. None of them have reported damage.”

Beyond that, Public Storage declined to comment on the situation. Weidmann said that whatever is worked out with the Grondins “will be between Public Storage and the Grondins. We don’t comment on specific customer actions.”