Superstorm Sandy: A Storm That Changed New York Forever

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By: Melissa H. Luckman, Practitioner-in-Residence of the Disaster Relief Clinic and Daniel Strafer, Staff Attorney of the Disaster Relief Clinic

(L to R): Daniel Strafer, Staff Attorney; Melissa Luckman, Practitioner-in-Residence; Christina Lipski, Paralegal (L to R): Daniel Strafer, Staff Attorney; Melissa Luckman, Practitioner-in-Residence; Christina Lipski, Paralegal

On October 29, 2012, Superstorm Sandy caused severe damage to many areas on the eastern seaboard. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a statewide state of emergency, and ordered a mandatory evacuation of Flood Zone “A.” Flooding is the most common natural disaster in the United States. Between 1980 and 2013, the United States suffered more than $260 billion in flood-related damages. Superstorm Sandy was the deadliest and most destructive disaster of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, and the second-costliest hurricane in the United States. Estimates as of 2015 assessed damage to have been about $75 billion, a total only surpassed by Hurricane Katrina.

As the Sandy waters started to recede, thousands of homeowners began the process…

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Superstorm Sandy: A Storm That Changed New York Forever

Source: Superstorm Sandy: A Storm That Changed New York Forever

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FLOOD INSURANCE – NYRISING FREE LEGAL CLINICS & MORE…. Mental Health, Accessibility Equipment, NYRising Design and Construction Professionals, Consumer Affairs, and Disaster Case Managers from Catholic Charities!



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Congresswoman Kathleen Rice, Nassau County Legislators; Denise Ford, Steven Rhoads, and James Kennedy and Touro Law School Invite you to




 First Come, First Served!       No Appointment Necessary!

PLEASE organize all of your paper work in advance as we will be accommodating 20-30 minute consultations, during which time we will review all of your documentation, advise as to re-entering the FEMA review claims process, and we can also review your NY Rising documentation.
Paperwork should include: Flood insurance declaration page, prior adjustments for structure/contents, denial letters, invoices, receipts, photographs, NYR Award Letter/Grant Agreements

A reminder, September 15, 2015, is the last day to enter into the FEMA review process.

You can enter by calling FEMA Intake at (866) 337-4262.

 Touro Disaster Relief Clinic: 631-761-7198

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Bill aims to keep FEMA from collecting Sandy overpayments due to error

Touro Law Center Disaster Relief Clinic Staff Attorney Dan Strafer along with summer students Anthony Dichiara, Jeremy Saint Laurent and Steve Spaccarelli

Touro Law Center Disaster Relief Clinic Staff Attorney Dan Strafer along with summer students Anthony Dichiara, Jeremy Saint Laurent and Steve Spaccarelli

The Touro Law Disaster Relief Clinic recently paired-up with Congresswoman Rice and Congressman Meeks to help immunize innocent homeowners from FEMA’s attempts to collect Super Storm Sandy insurance over-payments.

Anthony Dichiara, a Touro Fellow at the Disaster Clinic, along with Staff Attorney Dan Strafer and summer students Jeremy Saint Laurent and Steve Spaccarelli  recently attended a press conference held at the home of Elizabeth Treston, a Long Beach resident who FEMA has attempted to collect $4,500 for over-payments made to her over two years ago.  Ms. Treston neither committed fraud nor misrepresented the basis of her insurance claims in order to obtain these proceeds.  Instead, FEMA awarded her excess funds without indicating how the money was to be used or whether these funds were potentially duplicative of other proceeds.

Ms. Treston, however, is not alone as FEMA has began contacting over 1,000 residents in Long Beach, Freeport, and Oceanside in order to collect similar over-payment amounts.  As a result, Representatives Rice and Meeks have put legislation in place that would allow FEMA to forgive the debts of innocent homeowners while keeping fraudulent homeowners on the hook.  This legislation will hopefully be enacted to ease some of the burdens faced by many still in the recovery process.

Summer Fellow Steve Spaccarelli describes his experience during the press conference as an enlightening one. “I enjoyed having the opportunity to meet Congresswoman Rice along with having the opportunity to hear what the policy regarding recoupments was going to involve”. The burning question I was left with after the press conference is about what FEMA will do in response to the passage of this bill. Even though FEMA will probably begin using discretion again based on individual cases when determining whether or not people need to pay back FEMA for aid, there’s still the possibility that FEMA still charges people indiscriminately on the recoupments which will leave Sandy victims in a rather curious situation. We’ll see what happens as the bill gains more traction in Congress.

Summer Fellow Jeremy Saint Laurent describes the proposed bill drafted by Congresswoman Kathleen Rice and Congressman Gregory Meeks as “exactly what the thousands of Long Island residents effected by Hurricane Sandy have been waiting for”. Long Island home owners were some of the hardest hit in the state and the recoupment letters they received from FEMA, asking for money they spent to repair their homes in good faith, was simply adding insult to injury.

Once the bill is approved, FEMA will have the authority to overlook certain duplicated benefits, allowing those home owners who innocently received and spent money from FEMA to move on with their lives some two and a half years after the super-storm devastated the Island. FEMA will be given discretion as to which debts they will be forgiving, allowing them to pursue the few cases that entail deliberate fraud on the part of home owners.

It is evident that the press conferences and the announcement of the bill serves as a moral boost to the victims of Sandy but hopefully it will also mend the relationship between homeowners, the national government and FEMA.  This bill is a step in the right direction to restore the much needed trust between those who felt they were short changed and wrongfully accused by FEMA and the government workers in charge of allocating funds post-natural disaster.

Written by Anthony Dichiara, Jeremy Saint Laurent and Steve Spaccarelli 

See below for the formal Newsday article and Video.

Newsday: Bill aims to keep FEMA from collecting Sandy overpayments due to error, By Emily C. Dooley

National and local politicians want to stop Federal Emergency Management Agency officials from demanding residents pay back $23.4 million in financial assistance awarded to superstorm Sandy victims.

During a news conference in Long Beach on Friday, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans), Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), local politicians and residents whom FEMA wants to claw back money from pressured Congress to pass a bill that would waive the debt when payments were made by error or mistake. It would not apply to fraud cases. A similar bill expired in 2010.

“These are hardworking individuals who committed no crime, no fraud,” Meeks said. “Our natural disaster response must be more sensitive to victims’ concerns.”

The bill passed committee, but has not been called for a House vote.

FEMA sent demand letters to 5,350 applicants in New York and New Jersey who the agency believes were either overpaid or improperly paid from $26.99 to $31,900 per case.

Nearly 1,000 demand letters have been sent to Long Islanders, amounting to $6.79 million, according to documents obtained by Newsday through the Freedom of Information Act.

Meeks also said House and Senate lawmakers from both parties would send a letter to FEMA next week asking the agency to stop collection efforts until the bill passes.

“They’re victims, and they’re being victimized again,” Rice said.

FEMA’s Director of Public Affairs Rafael Lemaitre said the agency didn’t comment on pending legislation or correspondence, but the amount it wanted to claw back represents less than 2 percent of the overall aid awarded to individuals.

“We know that for that relatively small percentage of individuals it can be very difficult, and FEMA is committed to maintaining a fair and transparent process for recovering improper payments,” he said in a statement. He said people have options: pay, appeal, request a compromise or start a payment plan.

Once recipients receive a demand letter, they have 30 days to pay or risk interest charges. Appeals must be filed within 60 days. Penalties begin to accrue at 90 days; 120 days after the initial letter is sent, FEMA turns the account over to the Treasury Department, which can garnish wages, tax returns and other benefits to recoup the debt.

Advocates say the process is hard to understand, appeals are difficult, and penalties are severe.

Cedarhurst resident Alan Oberstein said he got a letter from FEMA in April demanding about $2,900. A week later, a letter from Treasury said he owed $800 more in penalties and fees. “I don’t know what fees,” he said. “It’s not like a bank. It was very vague.”

Oberstein, whose house was flooded with 10 feet of water, asked Rice’s office for help. The case is still unresolved.

Treasury officials would not disclose recoupment fees.

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“Fighting To Keep Your Home In The Wake Of Superstorm Sandy” The Suffolk Lawyer, May 2015 , by Melissa Luckman, Staff Attorney Touro Law Center’s Disaster Relief Clinic

Suffolk Lawyer-01

In the wake of a natural disaster or financial crisis, oftentimes the first bill that goes unpaid is the mortgage. Homeowners who struggle to pay their mortgage payments face tough choices—do you stay in a home causing extreme financial hardship or do you walk away from a life you once knew?

On October 29, 2012, Superstorm Sandy pummeled the East Coast, leaving a trail of devastating destruction in its wake. Superstorm Sandy was a major catastrophic event responsible for multiple fatalities and significant damage and disruption.  Roughly $80 billion worth of homes across eight states were put at risk by the storm’s surge, according to Corelogic, a residential property information, analytics and services provider (

Just one year after Superstorm Sandy, New York homeowners were drowning under a wave of foreclosure notices. A October 29, 2013 report from RealtyTrac (, a leading sourse for comprehensive housing data, reported that foreclosure activity in the first nine months of 2013 was up 33% compared to the first nine months of 2012 in the seven county region including the five boroughs of New York and Long Island.

Today the interplay of real property devastation along with the delays in homeowners receiving flood insurance proceeds is creating a class of storm-related foreclosures.  When a mortgage is in arrears and a homeowner is facing foreclosure, there are options to stop the foreclosure process through loss mitigation, an alternative process in which lenders work with borrowers to mitigate, or arrive at an agreement to resolve, past-due mortgage payments.

In the aftermath of natural disasters, disruptions of traditional communications, devastation or loss of all personal and/or real property can add to the obvious difficulties of distressed residents to meet their mortgage payments on time.  In these situations, it is not uncommon for there to be a temporary reprieve of debt obligations until normalcy can be restored.

Under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, the President has the authority to declare a national disaster.  All the National Disaster Areas identified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will be subject to a moratorium on foreclosures following the disaster.  The moratorium applies only to those mortgages on properties that were directly affected by the disaster, and are effective as of the date the President declares a disaster.  The moratorium expires ninety (90) days from that date, unless extended by United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The most recent example of this was a moratorium on foreclosures on mortgages in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. For those homeowners affected by Superstorm Sandy, mortgage servicers were authorized to take extreme measures, including extending a forbearance for up to 12 months and implementing a 90-day foreclosure sale suspension and a 90-day eviction suspension for properties located within FEMA-designated areas eligible for individual assistance.

When a homeowner is still experiencing financial hardship beyond the moratorium, there are various loss mitigation options including: (1) HAMP modifications; (2) deed-in-lieu of foreclosure; and (3) short-sales.

In February 2009, the Obama Administration introduced the Making Home Affordable Program (MHA), a plan to stabilize the United States housing market and help struggling homeowners get relief and avoid foreclosure. The portion of MHA that addresses loan modification is the Home Affordable Modification Program, also known as HAMP. Under HAMP, servicers apply a uniform loan modification process to provide eligible borrowers with affordable and sustainable monthly payments for their first lien mortgage loans.  The end result of a successful loan modification produces a new mortgage agreement whereby the lender and the homeowner are bound by new terms. Affordability is achieved through the application of interest rate reduction, term extension, principal forbearance and principal forgiveness.

For those homeowners who do not qualify for a HAMP modification there are other options to avoid foreclosure.  Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives (HAFA), is part of the MHA which addresses the need for homeowners who cannot afford their monthly mortgage payment and who would transition out of their home.  HAFA provides two options for transitioning out of your home: (1) a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure or (2) a short sale.

A deed-in-lieu of foreclosure is a property disposition option in which a borrower voluntarily deeds their collateral property in exchange for a release from all obligations under the mortgage, to satisfy a loan that is in default and avoid foreclosure proceedings.

The other HAFA option is selling a property as a “short sale”.  A short sale occurs when a homeowner sells their home to a third party for less than the total debt remaining on the mortgage.  With a short sale, all negotiations are between a potential purchaser and the lending institution, in which the lender agrees to accept the proceeds from the sale in exchange for releasing the lien on the property.

With both a deed-in-lieu and a short sale, a disadvantage to a homeowner is the possibility of a deficiency judgment.  In most cases, the HAFA options will release the borrowers from all obligations and liability under the mortgage, but this is not always the case. To avoid a deficiency judgment with both a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure and a short sale, the agreement must expressly state that the transaction is in full satisfaction of the debt and that the lender waives its right to the deficiency. If the agreement does not contain this provision, the lender may file a lawsuit to obtain a deficiency judgment.

The widespread mortgage foreclosure threatens the very fabric of families and communities. It is the unfortunate reality that two and half years since Superstorm Sandy, many survivors have still not moved back into the place they once called home, and the risk of them losing their properties to foreclosure is rising.

The Suffolk Lawyer, May 2015:

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Touro Law Center Disaster Relief Clinic’s Melissa Luckman, in collaboration with the Office of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand held a presentation on Wednesday, May 27 to walk homeowners through the FEMA Sandy Claims Review Process.  Representing Senator Gillibrands’ office,  Regional Director Deborah Tinnirello and Regional Assistant Melanie Sinesi assisted with the program.

Ms. Luckman  spoke about the need to understand your policy coverage and its limits,  the administrative review process for Hurricane Sandy claims, document submission and duplication of benefits analysis.

The Disaster Relief Clinic wants to educate as many homeowners as possible in obtaining the maximum amount of flood insurance proceeds to assist in moving back home and/or alleviating the stress of current and growing bills. Homeowners can contact the Touro Law Center Disaster Relief Clinic for assistance with any claims stemming from Hurricane Sandy, including flood insurance, New York Rising assistance, contractor issues, and FEMA recoupments etc., by calling…

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