The Norman Transcript

Nation/World

January 21, 2013

Superstorm challenges definition of basement

HOBOKEN, N.J. — Irene Sobolov believes the first floor of her house is just that. The federal government and her insurance company say it’s a basement.

Sobolov and others whose lower-level apartments or businesses sustained water damage during Superstorm Sandy say the property they own is being classified as a basement, severely limiting what is covered under the National Flood Insurance Program.

“It’s the battle of the definitions,” said Sobolov. “No one told us about this basement thing.”

The basement classification has become a point of contention in Hoboken. There are about 1,700 below-ground units that house people or businesses, according to Mayor Dawn Zimmer.

People whose homes or businesses were classified as a basement are eligible for grants that are part of the $50.7 billion Sandy aid package approved by the House of Representatives last week, a spokesman for Senator Frank Lautenberg said. It is unclear how much will be allocated or what the rules will be.

“A store or apartment that requires you to walk down one or two steps is plain and simply not a basement,” Zimmer told the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

“For many people, that’s their primary residence. It’s where they have the kitchen, the bedroom,” Zimmer said in an interview. “It’s their home.”

A basement is classified as “any area of the building, including any sunken room or sunken portion of a room, having its floor below ground level (subgrade) on all sides,” according to a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Basement flood coverage is limited to items including central air conditioners, hot water heaters and “cisterns and the water in them,” according to the program’s website.

Floors, paneling and most personal property in buildings classified as basements are not covered.

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