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Homeowners seek Sandy flood coverage: ‘No one told us about this basement thing’

Posted Jan 22, 2013 2:29 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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New Jersey National Guard Soldiers assist displaced residents
at the town of Hoboken Oct. 31. (U.S. Army photo
by Spc. Joseph Davis/Released)

The definition of "basement" is a major issue for homeowners who bought coverage under the National Flood Insurance Program before Hurricane Sandy struck.

The classification is particularly important in Hoboken, N.J., where many homeowners were flooded when the Hudson River overflowed its banks during the storm, the Associated Press reports. Among those challenging the definition is lawyer Jeffrey Bronster, who has filed a class action suit that contends the flood program is defining “basement” too broadly.

The flood insurance program does not cover floors, paneling and most personal property in basements, defined as any area of a building that has its floor below ground level on all sides, the story says. Some basement items are covered, however, including central air conditioners and hot water heaters.

Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer says about 1,700 units in the city house people or businesses below ground level. She told Congress last month that the flood insurance rules “do not reflect the reality” of urban living. She contends a store or an apartment that is a few steps below ground level should not be considered a basement.

One Hoboken resident who is dismayed by the limitation is Irene Sobolov. She said that Sandy caused her sewer to overflow, causing damage to her home that will cost an estimated $60,000 to $80,000 to repair. “No one told us about this basement thing,” she told AP.

Some of those who can’t recover flood coverage for their basements may have an alternative, however. A Sandy aid package approved by the U.S. House last week may provide grants, the story says. But the grants likely won’t cover all the costs, the New York Times reports.

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