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

A year-long fight with no end in sight

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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llhuberarchitect

Where are the complaints about obama falling down on this and not caring?
If it were a republican president the media hype against him/her would be deafening.

October 28 2013 at 3:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to llhuberarchitect's comment
John Hinerman

it is congress that decides who gets relief.. you might want to check with your republican buddies when voted no.

October 28 2013 at 5:48 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
sam54ct

Always worked that way, below ground level, minimal coverage. Good incident to keep in mind when developing your basement.

October 28 2013 at 3:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Lettybits

How true!

October 28 2013 at 3:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
happy2bgridfree

Where did all the money from all those fundraisers go? Robin Hood Foundation? Restore the Shore? United Way? Red Cross? Seems to me the big push was to pour money back into boardwalk areas and businesses. How about the little guy whose house is still a mess?

October 28 2013 at 2:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
vrf19977

Sell the damn heap, even at a loss, and move into an apartment or condo! Why are you staying in such a hopeless situation? Sometimes you need to make your own future.

October 28 2013 at 12:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
babydoll

isn't there some billionaires that could help these good americans ; that were mostly hard working ,people out , that would be so much more awesome than hearing about other ways these same people with all those $$$ give!!!

October 28 2013 at 12:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to babydoll's comment
Erik Baran

Oh, the 1%-ers like to take about private citizens taking up the charitable/safety net roles from the government, but when it actually comes to opening the pocketbook, they somehow lose interest. As in every other aspect of their strategy, the vast majority of them are in it for themselves and nobody else. For every Gates and Buffett there are a thousand hypocrites.

October 28 2013 at 12:41 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Erik Baran's comment
lui212a

Funny thing. I know that Gates was never a chariable type of person. The reason he even have a charity fund was due to the IRS "convinced" him to do it (tax him heavily if he don't). Read/Heard it somewhere on a biography about him.

October 28 2013 at 2:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down
Carabella

Unfortunately, if any part of a dwelling is below grade it's considered a basement, even if half of the walls are above grade.

October 28 2013 at 12:23 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
malcolm

FYI.....Most (almost All) Flood Insurance is provided by The Natl Federal Insurance Program (but you purchase it through an insurance agency). Only a hand full of ins companies actually write it and it's mainly for high value homes.

October 28 2013 at 12:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to malcolm's comment
kaiiam

Actually, flood insurance is for everyone. It is not for high value homes...high value homes max out their primary flood coverage(usually at $250K) and then buy Excess flood policies to cover the remainder of the value of their home. The NFIP rates are pretty low and since I have worked with flood insurance for the last 8 years, I can tell you that based on the quotes for repairs as mentioned and the premium she is quoting, she lives in a CBRA zone and coverage is not available for her under the NFIP. That means she got her insurance through a non-admitted company which does not always have to adhere to traditional insurance regulations(including how claims are payed out in the event of a disaster). Also, because it is most likely a CBRA policy, basements are only covered as storage space for most companies as they prefer elevated homes with any ground level flooring to be used only as storage. This was something she should have checked into before purchasing the home and the banks are usually VERY clear about the risks and strict about the insurance. Also, the policy covers the walls and the floors, not fixtures and furniture unless she paid for additional content coverages.

October 28 2013 at 12:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to kaiiam's comment
gdwn411

If you read a standard NFIP flood policy they do not cover any personal belongings AT ALL below grade. The only thing in the "basement" they cover, aside from the building itself, is the equipment necessary to the running of the house such as electric boxes, furnaces, etc. Finished basements no matter how nice are not covered for the contents or the improvements. Back up of sewers and drains, etc is an add on coverage to Homeowners and will cover contents however, most often it caps out with many insurers at $5000. People really need to educate themselves and read their insurance policies to understand what they are not covered for. I feel very sorry for this woman and hope one of the many "charities" that collected money for these victims actually gives them some.

October 28 2013 at 1:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down
razov

I can sympathize with the homeowner in this story, Mrs. Sobolov. She seems very brave and determined.
As a young, college graduate 30 years ago, I rented a basement apartment without ANY insurance. Well,
I found out the hard way, after the first hard rain, the toilet and bathtub would back up and flood the my hallway and bedroom.
The building owner said there was nothing they could do, by I learned later from a plumbing contractor there is a solution. It requires installing a one-way "check valve" in the waste pipe. Later, when I bought a condo with smiliar drainage problems in the basement, I had the valve installed. It saved alot of grief!

October 28 2013 at 12:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
blstory1969

It's because Obama is a racist!

October 28 2013 at 11:59 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

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