The storm next time

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After the storm, we were inundated with advertisements from insurance companies telling us that we shouldn’t worry, that they would be there with checks and tender loving care. Many of them responded promptly and wrote those checks, but some have resorted to every loophole possible to deny coverage. Some of the excuses for those denials relied on twisted logic and legal distortions.

As is the case with all major storms, right after Sandy, thousands of “home improvement” contractors descended on local communities, offering fast reconstruction work. Dazed homeowners, unable to determine how reliable these contractors were, signed on immediately to get their damaged homes rebuilt. Now, less than a year later, we’re hearing horror stories about how would-be contractors stole the money and ran.

The lessons from past major storms, for storms yet to come, must be recognized at every level of government, and action has to be taken in anticipation of a repeat of many of these sad tales. Every local government should appoint some type of ombudsman to be available to assist homeowners with practical advice and direction. Many young lawyers would gladly volunteer to be of help.

Every city, town or village should maintain a list of licensed home-improvement contractors. Residents should be able to pick up the phone and check out the background of the person who has solicited a job. Contractors who aren’t on the list should be directed to the local government to be registered.

Insurance companies advertise after a big storm, and the state should do the same. Residents should be told where to call if they have been denied coverage, and what their rights are. The state’s Department of Financial Services, which is responsible for regulating the insurance industry, should aggressively take on that role.

A lot of people are still hurting from the Sandy experience. Their suffering shouldn’t be ignored, and their tragic tales shouldn’t be repeated.

Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column?

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