Friday, May 10, 2013

Co-Op Owners May Not Receive Help from FEMA After Hurricane Sandy

For co-op residents whose homes were damaged in Hurricane Sandy, financial assistance from FEMA may not be forthcoming.  

Cooperative housing, a system that exists all over the nation but flourishes in New York City, is a housing agreement wherein apartment dwellers, rather than legally own or rent their units, instead purchase a share of the entire building. The legal distinction may not appear to mean much to the average person, but after Hurricane Sandy, the difference has cost many co-op apartment dwellers Federal Emergency Management Agency aid, even though many of the buildings and residencies were damaged extensively by the storm.[1]

Under current law, co-op owners cannot apply for aid to their individual units or common areas because that is seen as the responsibility of the entire building, which is regarded as a business, even though no actual profits are sought or even received. Although issue was addressed before after Hurricane Wilma in Florida, it has never been resolved. However, because no other region in the nation that has such a high percentage of co-ops has ever been hit by a storm the size of Hurricane Sandy, the problem will not be as easy to ignore. 

Approximately 20 percent of the residencies hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy were co-ops. Even though the common image of co-op dwellers is that of well-to-do, moneyed American aristocracy, many co-op residents are senior citizens and retirees for whom additional financial obligations would be devastating. 
FEMA can, however, provide aid for damaged furniture and possessions, in much the same way that renter’s insurance does.  However, areas such as the roof or boilers, for example, are considered “common areas,” to be addressed by the board and the tenants. 

Appeals have been made by local representatives for the purpose of changing legislation, so that co-ops might qualify for a portion of the repair funds. However, the real difficulty lies in finding representatives from other states who will support an allotment for co-ops. Because many senators and congressmen and women come from regions that are often hit by natural disasters such as floods and tornadoes, they might not be amenable to the possibility that FEMA funding could be diverted to a New York co-op.

[1] Navarro, Mireya: U.S. Rules Bar Aid to Co-ops Hit by Sandy New York Times 5/1/2013

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