Nearly six years after Superstorm Sandy flooded Pat Lubicich’s Seaford home with five feet of water, she still can’t live there.
Her neighbor Kathleen Maggio’s storm-damaged home on the same Seaford block has been torn down, but Maggio is still paying a mortgage, property taxes and flood insurance on it.
Others from Wantagh, Massapequa and Freeport now have liens on their homes because the general contractors they chose to lift their badly damaged houses failed to pay the subcontractors who did work on them, so they stopped the jobs.
These were just some of the complaints raised by about two dozen residents at a Superstorm Sandy forum held by Nassau County officials at the Theodore Roosevelt Legislative Building in Mineola on Aug. 9.
Meanwhile, other residents — also unable to live in their homes because contractors didn’t finish elevating them — told the Herald that they didn’t know about the forum, or they would have been there.
The Nassau Office of Consumer Affairs has so far received and investigated more than 270 complaints about contractors hired to lift homes against future flood damage, officials said at the event. At the forum, they said the volume of complaints lodged against these “unscrupulous contractors,” who took money from homeowners but didn’t finish or start the jobs, caused them to review and change the long-held complaint tracking system they use.
Complainants are now asked at the start of the process whether they are seeking monetary compensation or whether they want the contractor to finish the job. All complaints about Sandy contractors are investigated, officials said, and violations are issued. The results will now be expedited, first with a conference to try to resolve the issue, and if that is unsuccessful, then with a hearing overseen by an attorney. The office is also hiring court officers and transcribers for the hearings, so the complainant can obtain transcripts if necessary.
Consumer Affairs Commissioner Greg May said his staff advertised the Aug. 9 forum on social media and in a flier to constituents who filed complaints and provided email addresses. Nassau County Legislator Denise Ford, a Republican from Long Beach, who co-hosted the event, also advertised the event on social media.
Officials also invited representatives of other relevant agencies, including the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, Nassau Bar Association and Touro Law Center.
For those Sandy victims who need to restart unfinished elevation jobs or start mandatory lifting, county officials gave tips on hiring a new contractor. Most important, they said, was to make sure a contractor is licensed and in good standing with the office. Officials also said a general contractor is required by state law to have either an escrow account, which the homeowner controls, or a performance bond until the job is completed. The contractor must show proof of one of these to the homeowner if requested.
Complaints at the forum also included a lack of contractors to start, restart or finish the elevation jobs by the deadline imposed by NY Rising, a state agency set up to provide Federal Emergency Management Agency funds for residents whose homes were damaged by Sandy.
Lubicich said she has gone back and forth with NY Rising for years, receiving funds in “dribs and drabs” — but not enough to lift her home, which is in a mandatory elevation zone. Her entire block — Sands Lane, a small private road near the local marina — is in that flood zone. Lubicich is required to lift her house eight feet, and have it up in the air by January 2019, a date extended twice by NY Rising. The job must be completed by June 2019.
“Every day that my house is not elevated, I’m crossing my fingers that there’s no storm,” Lubicich said. She added that the trailer she lives in has a sewage hookup and running water, but no electricity. Meanwhile, her house, one of the few still standing on her block, has electricity but no sewage hookup.
“I’m hoping to have both of them together,” she said.