When a 'Basement' Is Your Home: Sandy Insurance Battles

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Julio Cortez/AP Irene Sobolov and her son Joey at the kitchen table of the ground floor living area in Hoboken, N.J., that is being called a "basement"
By Irene Sobolov

I am completely freaked out when it rains! I hate the sound of it and the thought of any high tide.

My entire "public" living area was ruined in Superstorm Sandy. My living room, kitchen, bathroom, dining room and hallway. Not from "flooding" but from the inside through the sewer backup. About two feet of sewage ruined my walls, floors, furniture and most of my family's belongings. We have not been able to rebuild yet and remain "on the slab" with no walls and no heat downstairs. We have spent the year fighting the insurance companies, applying for loans and grants and trying to secure contractors.

As we have a mortgage we are mandated to have flood insurance. We also had "sump pump" and "sewer backup" coverage. But we are one of the thousands of residents who live in "garden" apartments caught with no or severely limited coverage despite our long term payments.

So begins the war of definitions... what is a basement, what is flooding vs sewer, what is a fair rate for construction?

For example, because my home is two to three steps down it is only covered as a "basement" and as such I am eligible to reconstruct my entire bathroom for $200! I wrote to all my elected officials and other members of Congress...crickets.

So.... I waded through my dark house, I threw out all my belonging and my soaked furniture, ripped out my floors and walls and sobbed through the clumps of photos and papers. I later learned I was only eligible for $5,000 in "sump" and $5,000 in "sewer backup" and we got about $6,000 for "emergency aid."
Julio Cortez/APIn urban areas such as Hoboken, N.J., so-called "basements" are active living spaces.
We were also grateful for the $1,900 from Hoboken and the $10,000 from REBuild NJ. However it does not come close to the estimates we are getting for remediation and reconstruction of our home -- about $80,000 - $90,000. The kicker? They have raised my rates twice since the storm for having a "finished" basement! They will take my payments every year of about $3,000 but, even in the event of another "Sandy," I will never see any of it!

It is really still so raw.

The good? I will never ever ever forget how proud I was of Hoboken coming together to help each other out. The people that took me in, let me shower in their house, donated kitchen appliances to me... the sight of the high school when I went down to donate winter coats, the food vendors from all over the county and the Elks serving me and my mother and father and hundreds of other residents a wonderful hot meal.

I cry thinking of it still. I am not used to being on the receiving end...it was quite humbling.

Irene Sobolov is a lifelong Hoboken resident, mother of three, and member of the Board of Education. She gave an interview to Fios1 at the Six-Month mark of Sandy. Things stay the same.

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