There’s nothing more unsettling than knowing that an unwelcome visitor is in your home. If there was, horror movies wouldn’t have been using home invasions as plot devices for decades. Whether it be an intruder from the penitentiary, the insane asylum, or the great beyond, it’s only natural to have panic set in when there’s a living, breathing threat where you lay your head. Perhaps the intruder with the highest potential of wreaking havoc on your home falls into the category of the inhuman. No, not demonic forces, but raccoons, alligators, and other prowling wildlife.
Because many forms of wildlife are scavengers, they may quite literally slip through the cracks in search of food and shelter. While many animals are docile, even afraid, in the presence of humans, fear that they may attack at a moment’s notice may make their presence as jarring as the damage in which they are standing. If you do not feel confident that you can safely remove the creature on your own, call 911. Even if your local police force is unwilling to assist, they can refer you to someone who can. Be mindful that depending on the animal, the operator may suggest the use of a private pest service. Unfortunately, these companies sometimes engage in what is essentially opossum profiteering, which can be defined as exploiting your desperation by charging exorbitant prices. Presence of a public officer can sometimes be commandeered by coding the issue as a “break-in.”
Once your new roommate has been evicted, the horror may be over, but the work has just begun. The animal’s journey inwards, time spent inside, and extraction all leave room for a path of destruction. Thankfully, many homeowners policies cover wildlife damage as long as the animals involved are not members of the rodent family. After photographing the damage, patch over any glaring holes in your roof, drywall, or windows in an effort to re-secure your home. If you don’t, a thief—human or otherwise—may make their way in, and more damage might occur that may not be covered if considered to have been preventable.
Unfortunately, for renters, matters can be a bit more complicated. The language of renters insurance is more ambiguous and tends to speak of animal damage in terms of resident pets. You may need to seek more information from your insurer. Regardless, report the incident to your landlord, particularly if the animal got in through a crevice that should have previously repaired. Be mindful of fixing any damage to windows, blinds, light fixtures, and so on. While it may be an inconvenience to fund fixes for damages, chances are, the cost is much less than what you paid for your security deposit. Don’t give your landlord grounds to withhold anything unless you’re prepared to go to court. If you didn’t have the money to front and you are now in a dispute, seek legal advice if your landlord is using minor damage as grounds to withhold your entire deposit.
There are also grounds to contact a lawyer as a homeowner. First, insurance companies may exploit common misconceptions in order to use the rodent stipulation against you. For example, opossums aren’t rodents, but Allstate’s website asserts otherwise, thus rendering any related damage uncovered. The reality is that despite their rat-like tails, opossums are marsupials who like to chew their way through life using their 50 sharp teeth. Insurance companies may also withhold compensation if they believe you allowed the situation to escalate over time. But, it’s completely reasonable to hear scratching in your attic without immediately jumping to the conclusion of racoon residency. No matter the situation, lawyers can help highlight the facts. Very few of us are wildlife experts, but reasonable courses of action can be taken to help cast out animals’ lingering haplessness.
Galen M. Hair, an aggressive and relentless litigator, is licensed in multiple states and boasts clients from around the world. This unwavering success to continual improvement has led him to be named as a Super Lawyer Rising Star, a Top Lawyer by New Orleans Magazine, the Pro Bono Publico Award and numerous other accolades.