From the AP:
Irene Sobolov thinks the first floor of her house is just that. The federal government and her insurance company say it’s a basement.
The semantics, Sobolov has learned, are very expensive.
Sobolov and others whose lower-level apartments or businesses sustained water damage during Superstorm Sandy say the property they own is being classified as a basement, severely limiting what is covered under the National Flood Insurance Program.
“It’s the battle of the definitions,” said Sobolov, standing on concrete that a wood floor once covered. She says the damage to her home came when the sewer overflowed, sending a repellent brew of sewage, condoms and garbage water up through her toilet and drain. “No one told us about this basement thing.”
The basement classification has become a point of contention in Hoboken, a city of 50,000 across the Hudson River from Manhattan. Hoboken sustained major flooding when the Hudson jumped its banks and roared into the city during Superstorm Sandy, one of the strongest storms to ever hit the area. It is one of the densest cities in the country, and there are about 1,700 below-ground units that house people or businesses, according to Mayor Dawn Zimmer.
A spokesman for Senator Frank Lautenberg said people whose homes or businesses were classified as a basement are eligible for grants that are part of the $50.7 billion Sandy aid package approved by the House of Representatives Jan. 15. It is unclear how much will be allocated or what the rules will be.
While there may be some relief coming, the classification is leading some to call for changes to the National Flood Insurance Program, saying the basement definition unfairly punishes people who own property in cities.
The flood insurance rules “do not reflect the reality” of urban living, Zimmer told Congress last month.
“A store or apartment that requires you to walk down one or two steps is plain and simply not a basement,” Zimmer told the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneur-ship.
“For many people, that’s their primary residence. It’s where they have the kitchen, the bedroom,” Zimmer said in an interview. “It’s their home.”
Sobolov said she is challenging the assertion that her home was flooded because of her claim that what came up through the toilet and drain damaged her home. But because the insurance company declared her home flooded, she is also fighting the basement classification. There was about a foot of water and sludge in her home.
She and her husband have owned the home for 12 years and pay about $2,500 a year in flood insurance, Sobolov said.
“They collect our money for 12 years and only now it’s, ‘Oh, I forgot to tell you, we don’t cover you?'” she asked.