A few weeks ago we ran an item in the aftermath of the mid-December cottage fire behind Lauren's Restaurant in downtown Boonville about Sarah Ryan’s attempt to get her $2000 rent deposit back from property owner Eddie Carsey. Ms. Ryan had rented the place since 2015, which functioned as both her home and a small day care before the December fire destroyed much of the building.
But there was quite a back story to Ms. Ryan's request — which went to small claims court last Thursday where Ms. Ryan appeared with a damages claim for $10,000, substantially more than the $2,000 deposit from Carsey and his partner, Tamara Baxman.
In their response to Ms. Ryan's claim, Carsey and Baxman forcefully argued that they shouldn’t have to pay anything because the fire was caused by Ms. Ryan storing a hay bale beneath the house which had dislodged the clothes dryer’s air vent, thus blowing hot air onto the hay bale and igniting it. Carsey and Ms. Baxman also itemized a series of rental agreement violations by Ms. Ryan which preceded the fire, such as using the premises for the daycare business without permission, making alterations without landlord approval, not maintaining the property, and so on.
Compounding the loss, Carsey and Baxman said they did not have insurance on the cottage because rural fire insurance is difficult to get these days, and prohibitively expensive, and would have raised the approximately $1100 per month rent Ms. Ryan was paying.
In his report on the fire, Anderson Valley Fire Chief Andres Avila confirmed that the fire began in the laundry room, but was unable to cite the exact cause: "Ignition: laundry area, wash house (laundry). Area of fire origin: Undetermined. Heat source: Undetermined. Item first ignited: Undetermined. Cause of ignition: Unintentional."
Carsey and Baxman submitted photographs of the remains of the building showing the area next to the dislodged dryer vent and the location of a partially burned hay bale directly under where the fire seems to have begun. The photos also show the remains of the dryer vent line under the house where it had been dislodged, presumably when the hay bale was placed there.
After listening to Ms. Ryan's claim and the Carsey/Baxman response, small claims court judge Jeanine Nadel, launching into full Judge Judy mode, was reportedly said to Ms. Ryan: "I’m not giving you any money because you are a bad tenant.”
Then Nadel turned to Carsey and said: “You should have evicted her.”
Judge Nadel denied Ms. Ryan's claim and the Carsey/Baxman counter-claim alleging fault on the part of Ms. Ryan.
Eddie Carsey is not sure what he's going to do with the remains of the burned out structure — the rear of the building is gone and the front has water damage, smoke damage and firefighting damage — which would require substantial remodel and repair.
“We were prepared to let this go,” Tamara Baxman said last week. “But she took us to small claims court and we had to respond.”
For now, Ms. Ryan continues fund-raising to re-establish via a Gofundme page.
Meanwhile Boonville, already short of housing, and Mr. Carsey have lost a nice rental unit, and Sara Ryan has lost personal belongings, her place to to live and her daycare livelihood.