A Marine family received a $32,000 bill for damages after their home on Marine Corps Base Hawaii caught fire in December from a lithium-ion battery explosion. The family eventually had the bill overturned, but not without a struggle.
Smoke detectors were removed during a maintenance turnover from the previous tenant before Master Sgt. Rudd, along with his wife Tammy and their three children moved into a home managed by Hunt Military Communities, Military.com reported.
Although the management company has a policy that smoke detectors must be installed prior to a tenant moving in, they were not installed. The Rudd said they made repeated requests to have the detectors installed, but months went by and nothing was done. Further, the terms of their lease forbade them from tinkering with smoke detectors.
Eventually, a lithium-ion battery exploded on the family’s electric bike, blowing up just two days before Christmas.
The battery explosion lit everything within a 10-foot radius on fire and crushed the garage door, sending smoke into the Rudd’s home, according to Military.com. The blast occurred around 11:30 a.m., and Mrs. Rudd was able to able to get the children to safety as the fire department extinguished the blaze.
After spending several nights in a temporary home provided by Hunt, the family received a massive bill for $32,131.08 for damages caused by the fire, including repainting, restoration, air duct cleaning and a new garage door.
The management company also denied the Rudd’s request to be reimbursed for rent for the rest of December, January and the majority of February – the family was still paying rent despite never spending another night in the house.
“Your request for your rent to be refunded to you from the date of the fire has been denied. I have, however, waived the 28-day notice to vacate for you that is required,” wrote Peyton Hoban, community director for Ohana Military Communities, Hunt’s subsidiary in Hawaii, in a Feb. 18 email obtained by Military.com.
“The last week has been more stressful than the days following the actual fire,” Tammy Rudd told Military.com. “If we can’t close out [of housing], John cannot execute his permanent change of station orders. They are threatening his career.”
“They have essentially crafted a strategy exploiting us rather than protect us,” John Rudd added.
After weeks of trying to resolve the massive bill, Jessica Rudd, John’s sister-in-law and a lifelong military family advocate, contacted officials in Congress regarding the fire.
Ultimately, the bill was reversed – a move Hunt attributed to the nature of the fire.
“I just know that for us here, we reversed the charges because at the end, it was an accidental fire and the resident was not responsible for it,” said Paris Cousin, senior director of operations at Hunt Military Communities.
Master Sgt. Rudd said he was disappointed by the whole ordeal, and decided to go public with his story in an effort to fight back against companyies attempting to “take advantage” of military tenants.
“We need junior Marines, junior sailors, junior soldiers, junior airmen to be protected from [the companies]. I’ve got to be the last service member this happens to,” Rudd said.