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Sandy Launches Basement Debate Among Homeowners, Insurers [AUDIO]

Residents across New Jersey who suffered damage during the recent superstorm have been learning the hard way that the definition of a basement is worth tens of thousands of dollars in insurance coverage.

Hoboken post-Sandy
Floodwater drains from a basement as residents undertake clean up operations on October 31, 2012 in Hoboken (Jeff Zelevansky, Getty Images)

On the Federal Emergency Management Agency web site, a basement is defined as “any area of the building having its floor below ground level on all sides.” Such a definition is necessary because basement coverage differs from how the rest of someone’s property is handled.

Personal Items, Paneling, Flooring Not Covered

Most personal items in a basement that may have been damaged during Sandy, as well as floors and paneling, are not covered under the federal government’s rules. Certain items would be covered, including hot water heaters and air conditioning units.

In a city like Hoboken, where an estimated 1,700 units are below-ground, the basement classification battle has been a fierce one.

Since the storm, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer has visited Washington D.C., pushing for a change to how the National Flood Insurance Program works.

“It’s a very unfair system,” Zimmer told Townsquare Media. “It’s really not fair for so many people to pay into a system, but then you get very little back.”

The Associated Press cited a Hoboken couple who received $5,000 from FEMA and is expecting another $6,000 under their flood insurance. Contractors, though, estimated the damage could cost up to $80,000 to fix.

Zimmer noted that any eventual change to the policy won’t affect those affected by Sandy, but it can be a big help for victims of future storms. In the short-run, Zimmer said she is banking on grants through the multi-billion dollar Sandy aid package.

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