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Advice for NJ tenants who have been displaced by Superstorm Sandy

 

Important note:

You will need to keep checking this website—once will not be enough. The massive scale of destruction and disruption caused by Sandy is something we have never seen before. In many ways, our emergency responses and tenant/landlord laws are being applied to new and unanticipated situations. Because of this, many things in this posting are subject to modification or change, and new information will continue to be added as necessary. 

 

Superstorm Sandy has forced many people out of their homes. Many of them are tenants. If you are a tenant and had to leave the apartment or home you were renting because of the effects of Sandy, here are some things you should know.

Emergency and Temporary Help

If you had to leave your rented home or apartment because of the storm and have no place to go right now, you should be able to receive emergency shelter and other help. The following is a list of some of the types of help you can get, some of the agencies and organizations you can contact, and places you can go. Please note that this list may change at any time, as different kinds of help become available or unavailable, and different agencies or groups become involved or stop providing help.

  • County Boards of Social Services: Contact your local Board of Social Services to see if you are eligible for emergency housing assistance or other kinds of help
  • The federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has produced a publication, Frequently asked questions specific to Hurricane Sandy. This document addresses concerns related to HUD-subsidized and public housing tenants, as well as recipients of Housing Choice Vouchers.
  • FEMA: In coordination with the State-Led Housing Task Forces, FEMA has several temporary housing assistance options that can help to ensure survivors have access to safe, secure housing in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. All tenants and others affected by the storm must register with FEMA before May 1, 2013 or they will be ineligible for housing or any other forms of assistance. (See registration information at the end of this section.) The types of housing assistance used will depend on the needs of each individual community and can include:

    • Transitional Housing Assistance: At the request of New York and New Jersey, FEMA has activated its Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) program, which allows eligible survivors who are in shelters and cannot return to their homes due to storm-related damages to stay in participating hotels or motels until more suitable housing accommodations are available.

    • Housing Rental Assistance: If a home cannot be repaired easily to safe and sanitary conditions, then local rental resources are the preferred first choice for housing disaster survivors as they recover. FEMA authorized funds to increase the amount of rental assistance that it may provide eligible disaster survivors in New York and New Jersey to 125 percent. This increase will be implemented when a survivor is recertified for a continued need for temporary housing assistance. The approved increase is expected to make an additional 1,800 rental resources available for temporary housing of disaster-impacted families in New York, and an additional 1,200 rental resources available for similar families in New Jersey.

If you need an extension of the temporary housing assistance you are receiving from FEMA, you must contact FEMA and ask for help. FEMA should automatically send you a form that you must fill out concerning the request for more time. If you don’t have the form, or have questions about temporary housing assistance, contact FEMA’s toll-free helpline by phone or 711/VRS at 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 1-800-462-7585.

Families and individuals in eligible counties within New York and New Jersey who are registered for federal disaster assistance and seeking rental resources can search through hundreds of listings on the FEMA Housing Portal. The FEMA Housing Portal consolidates rental resources identified and provided by a variety of federal agencies, including HUD, USDA, and VA, and also lists rental properties provided by private organizations and property owners willing to help their neighbors during these difficult times.

To ensure FEMA is able to meet the housing needs of all survivors, FEMA is also pre-staging Temporary Housing Units (THUs) for possible use in New York and New Jersey, in the event that the units are requested by the states.

FEMA can also provide:

  • Grants for home repairs and replacement of essential household items not covered by insurance to make damaged dwellings safe, sanitary and functional.
  • Grants to replace personal property and help meet medical, dental, funeral, transportation, and other serious disaster-related needs not covered by insurance or other federal, state, and charitable aid programs.
  • Low-interest loans to cover residential losses not fully compensated by insurance. Loans are available for up to $200,000 for primary residence and up to $40,000 for personal property, including renter losses. Loans are available for up to $2 million for business property losses not fully compensated by insurance.

To qualify for any of this assistance, renters must first register with FEMA online at www.disasterassistance.gov, via web-enabled phone at m.fema.gov, or by calling 1-800-621-3362 or TTY 1-800-462-7585. For 711 Relay or Video Relay Services, call 1-800-621-3362. The toll-free telephone numbers are open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.

Rent payments, security deposits, property damage, and other housing problems

Once you have emergency or temporary housing, what you need to do next depends upon the particular situation you are in.  Here are some of the more common problems people are facing.

  • You had to leave your apartment or house before the storm, and could not return for several days because there was no electric or gas, not because of anything your landlord did or did not do. Your apartment was not seriously damaged, you lost no property other than what was in your refrigerator, and you are now back in or will be able to return as soon as the utilities are restored.  

    • Do I need to pay the rent? If you were only out of your home for a short time, and the main reason you could not return was that power was out in your whole neighborhood - not because of anything the landlord did or did not do – then you will in all likelihood have to pay the rent after you are back in the apartment. 
      [Remember: be sure to save the whole rent; don’t spend any of it.] However, since you could not live in the home or apartment for that period of time, you should call the landlord to see if he is willing to accept less rent because of the hardship you experienced.

    • What about my lost food and the other costs I had because I could not stay in my apartment, such as motel charges? You should file a claim with FEMA for any charges you had to pay for emergency shelter in a motel or some other location, and for any related costs. However, FEMA does not generally cover lost food. [You should have been advised that you had the right to apply to the Board of Social Services for disaster food stamp assistance. However, the application period was limited to one week, and has since expired.]

  • You had to leave your apartment because of the storm and now can’t move back in right away because of damages caused by the storm that can be repaired. 

    • Can I get temporary shelter assistance during the time that the repairs are being made? You should be entitled to temporary relocation assistance if you have been displaced by the local housing or building inspector or Board of Health. If you were, call the town inspection office and ask for the name and number of the person responsible for providing “relocation assistance.” You should also be able to obtain help from FEMA, the County Board of Social Services, or other organizations. See the first part of this article for how to get help from FEMA and seek assistance from other agencies and organizations.

    • Do I need to pay the rent, and do I have to pay it before I am back in the apartment or home? In this situation, you should not pay any rent before you are back in your home or apartment. [Remember: be sure to save the whole rent; don’t spend any of it.] This is because if you are not able to return within a reasonable time, or if you cannot return at all, you may be entitled to have your rent reduced, or not pay anything at all if you are never able to go back. Please read the rest of this article to find out when you may have these rights.

      If the landlord makes the repairs correctly and within a reasonably short time, you will probably have to pay the rent. However, since you could not live in the home or apartment for that period of time, you should call the landlord to see if he is willing to accept less rent because of the hardship you experienced. 

      If the landlord is slow making the repairs, or does not do them correctly, you may be entitled to have your rent reduced. Follow this link to learn about the landlord’s obligation to make proper repairs within a reasonable time, and your right to obtain a rent reduction (also known as a rent “abatement”) if this is not done: Your Right to Safe and Decent Housing
    • If the repairs are going to take a long time, can I move and get my security deposit back? New Jersey law says that if you are forced to leave your home or apartment because of “fire, flood, condemnation or evacuation,” and the local building inspector or other public official states in writing that you are unlikely to be able to get back into your apartment within seven days and tells this to the landlord, then the landlord must return your security deposit to you within five business days and you can move. If the landlord does not return the deposit to you within five days, you can sue in small claims court to get it back. If you decide to move back in once the repairs are done, however, you will have to pay the deposit back in three installments over 60 days with the first third being due at the time you return or you can be evicted. [The number of the New Jersey law that says all of these things is N.J.S. A. 46:8-21.1.]
    • Can I be paid for any of my property that is damaged or destroyed? The answer to this question depends on several things. If you have renters’ insurance and the damage is caused by rain or wind or the landlord’s failure to make repairs or keep the house or apartment up, then you should be able to receive payment for lost property from the insurance company. If your property is destroyed by a flood, however, the renters’ insurance probably will not cover your loss. [You should still file a claim, since it may not be clear what caused the damage.] 

      If you don’t have renters’ insurance, or your renters’ insurance won’t pay for your loss, you should find out if the landlord has flood insurance. If he does, you should ask him to submit a claim on your behalf. You may also be able to receive payment from FEMA or another organization for property that is lost or damaged. Read the first part of this article to learn how to do this.

      If any of the damaged or lost property is caused by something the landlord did or did not do (such as repair leaks in the roof, take care of electrical problems, or something else), then you should ask him to submit a claim to his insurance company. If the insurance does not pay, you can go to court and sue the landlord for the amount of your lost or damaged property.
  • You had to leave your apartment because of the storm, and you have been told that you can’t move back in at all because the apartment is so damaged that it cannot be repaired within a reasonable time, or at all. 
  • Do I need to pay any rent? No. In this situation, your obligation to pay rent ended on the day you were forced to leave your home. 
  • Can the landlord or the town tell me I am permanently evicted without taking me to court? Neither the landlord nor an insurance company nor any other private individual or organization can tell you that you are being permanently evicted. The landlord must take you to court to evict you. The landlord can only do this if a housing or health inspector has told her that there are serious violations that must be corrected, and the landlord can prove that she cannot afford to make the repairs. The landlord must also give you a written notice before taking you to court. Here is a link to the section of the LSNJ tenants’ rights manual that talks about the law and about the court process: The Tenant's Right to Court Process.

If the court does permit the eviction, you should be entitled to relocation assistance from the town or agency that told the landlord to make repairs. Call the town inspection office and ask for the name and number of the person responsible for providing “relocation assistance.” You should also be able to receive help from FEMA, the County Board of Social Services, or other organization. See the first part of this article for how to get help from FEMA and seek assistance from other agencies and organizations.

If a government housing or health inspector tells you that you are being permanently evicted immediately because the building is so unsafe that it represents an immediate threat to your life or health, you will have to leave and you may not be able to obtain relocation assistance from the town. You can fight the decision to close the building, but you will probably need an attorney’s help. Contact your local Legal Services office immediately. If you are evicted by the town or other agency, you should be able to obtain temporary shelter assistance, and long-term help as well, from FEMA, the County Board of Social Services, or other organizations. See the first part of this article for how to get help from FEMA and seek assistance from other agencies and organizations.

    • Do I have to pay any rent? No. In this situation, your obligation to pay rent ended on the day you were forced to leave your home. If you are able to move in again because you won in court, the inspector changes her decision, or for some other reason, you will have to start paying rent from the day you moved back in.
    • Can I get my security deposit back right away? New Jersey law says that if you are forced to leave your home or apartment because of “fire, flood, condemnation or evacuation,” and the local building inspector or other public official has posted a notice on the building saying that no one can live there, then the landlord must return your security deposit to you within five business days. If the landlord does not return the deposit to you within five days, you can sue in small claims court to get it back. [The number of the New Jersey law that says all of these things is N.J.S. A. 46:8-21.1.]
    • Can I be paid for any of my property that is damaged or destroyed? The answer to this question depends on several things. If you have renters’ insurance and the damage is caused by rain or wind or the landlord’s failure to make repairs or keep the house or apartment up, then you should be able to receive payment for lost property from the insurance company. If your property is destroyed by a flood, however, the renters’ insurance probably will not cover your loss. [You should still file a claim, since it may not be clear what caused the damage.] 

      If you don’t have renters’ insurance, or your renters’ insurance won’t pay for your loss, you should find out if the landlord has flood insurance. If he does, you should ask him to submit a claim on your behalf. You may also be able to receive payment from FEMA or another organization for property that is lost or damaged. Read the first part of this article to learn how to do this.

      If any of the damaged or lost property is caused by something the landlord did or did not do (such as repair leaks in the roof, take care of electrical problems, or something else), then you should ask him to submit a claim to his insurance company. If the insurance does not pay, you can go to court and sue the landlord for the amount of your lost or damaged property.
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This information last reviewed: 3/6/2013
LSNJ's Hurricane Sandy Hotline Video