By Beth Pinsker Gladstone
NEW YORK Nov 8 Superstorm Sandy hit the U.S.
Northeast just before the first of the month, when rent and
mortgage payments typically come due, not to mention cable,
phone and utility bills.
More than 8 million people lost power and 1 million or so
were evacuated from their homes. Some 40,000 are still
displaced. Meanwhile, the storm's impact destroyed 250,000 cars.
So now what are these folks supposed to do about their bills?
Adding to the misery, an unseasonably early winter snowstorm on
Wednesday in the U.S. Northeast knocked out power to more
customers, following those who had lost power because of Sandy.
Here are the answers to key consumer questions:
Q: Superstorm Sandy disrupted everything, and I need more
time to sort out my finances. How long do I have to make my
A: Many lenders are waiving late fees, so you have a little
time if you live in New Jersey, New York or Connecticut. Wells
Fargo & Co, the largest residential mortgage lender,
says it is waiving late fees until the end of November. The
company will give additional accommodation to customers who were
directly affected on a case-by-case basis.
Q: Should I make payments even if my house or car (or both)
A: Yes, at least until the issue is settled with the
insurance company and the bank. "Even if there's not a house,
you still own the property," said Jeanne Salvatore, senior vice
president of the Insurance Information Institute, a trade group
for the industry. Talk to your lender and your insurance company
to work it out. Do not wait. Failure to make payments will hurt
your credit score.
Q: Do I have to pay rent if I am not living in my apartment?
A: The general rule of thumb is you do not have to pay for
days you are not living in your apartment because it is
uninhabitable. Most landlords in New York seem to be cooperative
about this in the wake of Sandy, said Edward Josephson, an
attorney for Legal Services NYC. "Landlords don't want to be
taking people to court for Sandy rent."
Beware, though, if your landlord offers to move you to an
apartment in another building. "Get something in writing that
says you have the right to come back," Josephson says. Do not
pay more in rent than you are paying now. The big danger in this
is if your landlord moves you from a rent-regulated apartment to
one that is not and then tries to get out of offering you the
If you stayed in your apartment without power or other
amenities, you may choose to pay no rent. Josephson said this
risks litigation. His advice? Ask for a rent reduction instead.
Q: Do I have to pay my utilities?
The quick answer is no. Cable companies and utilities are
not charging for the days that your dwelling was without
service. And several cell phone carriers, such as Verizon
Communications Inc and AT&T Inc, are offering
similar waivers. Time Warner Cable Inc says if you get
charged for days you did not have power, call and ask for a
credit to your cable.
Q: I rent. Can I break my lease and move elsewhere?
A: It can't hurt to ask. In New York City's Financial
District, many of the large apartment complexes will be out of
commission for a long time. Real estate broker Sean Christie
says management companies are either moving tenants to other
buildings they own, or are letting tenants out of their leases.
But you need to factor in the added expense of moving.
You will likely sacrifice your security deposit for several
months until your landlord gets up to speed, Christie
calculates. Then there is the cost of movers, the first month's
rent and security on another apartment and a one-month broker's
fee, if it is not paid by the new landlord.
Christie said none of his clients have mentioned renter's
insurance to cover these particular costs. "It really is tough,"
Renter's insurance would likely cover only temporary costs
for alternative housing. "The coverage is for additional living
expenses," Salvatore emphasized. It usually does not cover your
primary rent or mortgage.
Q: Is there any help for lost wages?
A: For those who missed work in the days after the storm,
disaster unemployment insurance is available. But it is only for
self-employed people who are not otherwise receiving
unemployment benefits. It lasts for up to 27 weeks, beginning
Oct. 29, 2012. Applications are due by Dec. 3.
Based on other disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the
Sept. 11 attacks, it might make sense to hire an advocate to aid
with the complicated application process, said Cathy
Ruckelshaus, legal co-director of the National Employment Law
Expect to provide documentation of past income, and be ready
to explain other particulars of your situation.