By Anessa V. Cohen
Several weeks ago, the news stories were published about a court decision against an insurance company that was found tampering with engineer reports. The reports had been submitted by Sandy victims filing insurance claims for repairs and assistance after the disaster. When the decision was announced, applause could be found throughout all the social networks from people thrilled to hear about the flood-insurance companies getting smacked for disgusting behavior that was more suited to a Third World country than the good old USA.
After two long years, the victims finally saw a ray of hope that maybe the courts would hold those insurance companies culpable. This time, they would not get away with the shenanigans they have been pulling to avoid paying out the claims.
Well, unfortunately, although we all enjoyed seeing the court finding against the insurance companies, we realize that the insurance companies will probably contest the findings and drag everything out some more. Who really knows what will happen in the end? All I can say is “kol ha’kavod” to all those who had the gumption not to let it go and to take them to court—no matter how long this drags out.
The insurance companies are not the only ones stringing along the victims of Sandy. New York State announced the NY Rising program, promising that funds were being put together to help all those victims who were mistreated by their insurance companies. FEMA did not come through with flood-damage funds for repairs, which it promised would be on the way immediately after the disaster. Other federal agencies had also promised all kinds of emergency help. We all shrugged our shoulders and said, “Do ya think?”
New York politicians applauded the inception of NY Rising and how it would ride to the rescue of those people who had suffered from Sandy, but it all seemed to amount to just another political balloon thrown in the air that landed in the ocean instead of on dry land. It took months before any office actually opened up for this program. Eventually, NY Rising started to take off, taking applications and reams of documents and pictures from people, giving claimants the feeling that finally they would get the help they needed and had not yet received—not from the flood insurers to whom they had regularly paid premiums, nor from the federal agencies that had promised assistance from day one.
Several months after finally getting its act together, NY Rising cleaned house. Those who filed applications and had been given a NY Rising representative to keep in touch with, together with an e-mail address and phone number to keep track of their applications’ progress through the system, suddenly found early in 2014 that those e-mail addresses and phone numbers were disconnected and there were no NY Rising reps to be found anywhere.
For those who diligently tried to find hotlines to NY Rising to see what had happened to the staff members who had been working on their applications, the answer came back very neatly: “NY Rising’s contract with the vendor handling the applications this previous year was not renewed and everything is now on hold until a new vendor is chosen and new staff people are appointed to the various applications that are sitting in our files.”
Someone could have written a Greek tragedy about the ups and downs of this enterprise, “NY Rising!” Jump ahead several months (we are getting closer to election time) and suddenly some people start getting calls that their applications have found their way to someone’s desk to be reviewed and would the applicants please get in touch with the local NY Rising office to discuss and update their existing applications. Yes, this sounded promising, and those who got the call tried to reach the offices of NY Rising to see if they could push their applications forward. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a structure of any kind regarding who is taking care of these applications. Thousands of applications are at the mercy of whatever management staff is left at NY Rising.
Are residents finally getting anywhere with those applications that have been sitting there for more than a year? Are funds being released? There are no cut-and-dried answers. Although some funds seem to be trickling out like a drip from a faucet, the major funds are not. Somehow, between the changing of the guard from the previous vendors and the staff presently handling the applications, many of the files have been lost or mislaid, and so the applicants now must wait until those files turn up or hope that eventually someone will find them.
I saved the best for last. In a recent discussion with some contractors dealing with claimants waiting for NY Rising funds, I was advised that NY Rising has changed some guidelines in its “quest” to assist victims of Sandy. Whereas in the past, estimates from contractors and other professionals were sufficient for purposes of figuring out how much each repair would cost, it was decided that estimates would no longer be taken from contractors. Now, the new guidelines would require victims to hire architects or engineers to prepare “work orders” detailing the repairs and costs and submit them to NY Rising. Further, victims would have to pay the architects or engineers from their own pocket initially, with hopes that the claim will be approved by NY Rising, and only then would they receive reimbursement for funds already paid out to these professionals.
Since those fees begin in the range of $3,500 and up, those in a financial bind because of Sandy and unable to cough up the money to pay an architect or engineer in advance for these services—especially since there is no guarantee that they will be reimbursed—might as well just take a shovel and dig themselves a hole in the ground right now. So much for the additional assistance that is being offered by the state of New York!
The final indignity, which is unbelievable, is that on top of all this, in the case of work needed on the exterior of the home, NY Rising has decided that, in addition to the work orders, they want pre-Sandy pictures of the areas being claimed, so they can compare the post-Sandy damage to the condition of the area prior to Sandy! It seems to me that NY Rising is not a far cry from the flood-insurance companies in trying to limit its “assistance” to New Yorkers! This story is not over yet. v
Anessa Cohen lives in Cedarhurst and is a licensed real-estate broker and a licensed N.Y.S. mortgage broker with over 20 years of experience, offering full-service residential and commercial real-estate services (Anessa V Cohen Realty) and mortgaging services (First Meridian Mortgage) in the Five Towns and throughout the tri-state area. She can be reached at 516-569-5007 or via her website, www.AVCrealty.com. Readers are encouraged to send questions or comments to anessa.cohen@AVCrealty.com.