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Queens Chronicle

Hurricane Sandy victims in Howard Beach: insurance carriers are dropping us

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Posted: Thursday, March 28, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:11 am, Thu Apr 4, 2013.

In the midst of shared kitten pictures and snarky political comments, a Howard Beach resident’s quest for information appears on a Facebook News Feed:

“Hearing some of my neighbors have had their insurance policies dropped, anyone else?”

Within minutes, comments popped up responding to the question.

“Heard it too, a shame.”

“Yes, my parents were dropped.”

“Not surprised.”

Dozens, perhaps more, homeowners in Howard Beach, have had their home insurance policies dropped since Hurricane Sandy, leaving many concerned about whether they will be able to get coverage now that the neighborhood has been added to a flood zone.

Judy Close, a spokeswoman for state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach), said the issue even predated the storm.

“It has been a problem we’ve seen since Irene,” she said, noting that some homeowners had their policies dropped right before Hurricane Sandy hit.

State Farm has dropped several of its customers in Howard Beach and sources say it will no longer write policies in the neighborhood.

Arlene Lester, a spokeswoman for State Farm, could not confirm if the company will stop writing policies in Howard Beach, but said it continually assesses the risk situation in coastal communities.

“Doing so helps keep the promises we’ve made to our customers and assists our efforts in maintaining financial stability,” she explained.

Insurance companies and Howard Beach residents have had an acrimonious relationship since Sandy. At a town hall meeting in November at PS 146, residents berated insurance companies, allegeding that their carriers withheld checks or found loopholes to avoid making payouts.

“I worked for an insurance company and I’ve never been more disappointed in the industry,” said one Howard Beach resident at that meeting.

One of the central arguments at the time was whether the damage caused by Sandy’s storm surge was from a flood, which is not covered by homeowner’s insurance, or by wind, which is.

Though most of the damage was deemed to be flood-related, some structural issues, such as missing shingles and broken windows, were covered, and homeowners filed claims for that damage.

Representatives from the Department of Financial Services, who were assisting homeowners in Howard Beach last week, said they had heard of homeowners being dropped by insurance companies in other hard-hit areas, including in coastal Long Island communities.

But even though damage from Irene and Sandy appear to be the cause for insurance companies to be dropping policies, it may not be the only reason.

A DFS representative said the agency would need to look at the letters sent to each specific homeowner by his or her insurance company notifying them of their decision to not renew a policy in order to understand exactly why it’s happening.

Homeowners can do that by filing a complaint with the agency online at dfs.ny.gov/consumer/fileacomplaint.htm

There are some companies still writing policies in the area, including Nationwide and Narragansett Bay. Other companies are revamping their own maps to coincide with the temporary flood maps FEMA released in February. Though that could mean they may stop writing policies, it could also be a sign that they will continue to offer ones, albeit at higher premiums.

Flood insurance is still available for anyone in Howard Beach because it’s underwritten by the federal government. However, premiums may be high, especially for residents who do not take steps suggested by FEMA, including raising homes above flood level.

Addabbo announced that the DFS will bring its services van back to Howard Beach. It will be parked outside Staples on Saturday, March 30 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Anyone with questions about insurance can also call the DFS at 1 (800) 339-1759, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday.

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