TIPS FOR HOMEOWNERS AND TENANTS IN THE AFTERMATH OF HURRICANE SANDY
Q. Is there any mortgage payment relief available to homeowners whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Sandy?
A. Potentially yes. Both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have authorized mortgage servicers to grant a wide variety of relief to borrowers affected by Sandy. This relief applies to loans owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Relief measures may include a reduction or suspension of mortgage payments for a specified period, or non-initiation or completion of foreclosure proceedings under certain circumstances. Homeowners are encouraged to contact their servicer -- the company to whom they send their monthly mortgage payment -- to see if they are eligible for any relief.
Q. Is there any mortgage payment relief available to homeowners whose income has been negatively affected by Sandy?
A. Potentially yes. Fannie Mae has authorized mortgage servicers to grant a wide variety of relief to borrowers whose incomes were affected by Sandy. The same may be true for Freddie Mac. Relief measures may include a reduction or suspension of mortgage payments for a specified period, or non-initiation or completion of foreclosure proceedings under certain circumstances. Again, homeowners are encouraged to contact their servicer -- the company to whom they send their monthly mortgage payment -- to see if they are eligible for any relief.
Q. Is FEMA offering any assistance with temporary home repairs?
A. New Yorkers whose homes were damaged by Tropical Storm Sandy may seek aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to make temporary repairs so they can remain in their homes under a new Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power program. FEMA is hiring contractors who will be available to patch holes in walls and roofs, replace doors, run temporary electrical lines, fix electrical meters, and even repair plumbing. City residents can register with the FEMA program by calling 311 or online at www.nyc.gov/311 . Long Island, Westchester Orange, Putnam, Sullivan and Ulster residents can call FEMA at 1-800-621-3362. You can also register online at www.disasterassistance.gov. FEMA’s guide for aid to individuals and households is available here: http://www.fema.gov/pdf/assistance/process/help_after_disaster_english.pdf
Q. Is a tenant whose apartment lost electric power or heat for an unreasonable period of time entitled to a rent reduction?
A. Yes. A tenant is entitled to a livable, safe and sanitary apartment. Failure to provide electric power or heat constitutes a breach of the landlord's legal obligation under the warranty of habitability. Such tenant may be entitled to a reduction in rent for the period when the services were not provided.
Q. Does the warranty of habitability extend to shareholders in a cooperative?
A. Yes. Courts have held that the warranty of habitability extends to shareholder lessees living in a cooperative. Although the warranty of habitability does not extend to condominium unit owners, if such units are rented, the rental tenants are covered by the warranty of habitability.
Q. Does the warranty of habitability also cover loss of services in the common areas of the building, such as the loss of elevator service, as well?
A. Yes. The warranty of habitability is broadly interpreted by the courts to cover all essential services in the building affecting the tenant.
Q. Does the warranty of habitability apply even if the lack of services is the result of a storm or flooding and not the result of the landlord's conduct?
A. Yes. Some courts have held a landlord responsible for breach of the warranty of habitability caused by acts beyond the landlord's control. In addition, some landlords will voluntarily agree to reasonable rent reductions under such circumstances.
Q. What can a tenant do to enforce his or her rights?
A. A tenant should first request such rent reduction from the landlord, who may consent to the reduction. If not, a tenant may withhold rent for the period such services were not provided. The reduction is computed by subtracting from the actual rent the estimated value of the apartment without the essential services that were not provided.
Q. What are the tenant's rights if the tenant is forced to leave the apartment prior to the expiration of the lease due to dangerous or unsafe conditions?
A If the tenant relocates temporarily -- until such time as the apartment becomes habitable again, the tenant will be entitled to a full rent reduction during the period the apartment remains uninhabitable.
Q. What if the tenant decides to relocate permanently?
A. A tenant who is forced to leave the apartment because it is not habitable for a sustained period of time is considered to be "constructively evicted" from the apartment. In this event, the tenant may decide not to return and should notify the landlord of this intent and request termination of the lease and the return of the security deposit. Even though many standard leases give the landlord thirty days to make repairs, many landlords will grant the tenant's request to terminate the lease sooner when the apartment is not habitable due to a natural disaster.
Q. Would renter's insurance cover any damages resulting from Hurricane Sandy?
A. Some policies may cover additional living expenses such as hotel bills or alternative rentals (although flood damage is typically excluded). Tenants are encouraged to read their policies and contact their insurers to determine what damages may be covered by the policy.
Q. Are there government resources available to assist tenants who suffered damages as a result of Hurricane Sandy?
A. The federal government has a number of programs to assist such tenants. For further information regarding available programs and resources, including temporary housing rental assistance, go to FEMA's website at: http://www.disasterassistance.gov/. Tenants can register for assistance online.