Property Tax Appeals After a Natural Disaster

Photo courtesy of Raquel Baranow

With all of the property damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, most people in affected areas are still working hard to bring their homes back to their former beauty. It may seem hard to believe for those who are somewhat removed from the situation, but many New Jersey towns unfortunately have quite a few residents whose houses and properties were essentially ruined. Now it’s been nearly a month since Sandy blew through town. Homeowner’s or Flood Insurance claims have been filed, damage has been mostly cleaned up, and rebuilding is starting to take shape.

Homeowners in towns like Asbury Park, Point Pleasant, Manasquan, Avon, Allenhurst, and so many others along the New Jersey coastline who have suffered property damage may be coming to some harsh financial realities. Although helpful, insurance just isn’t going to pay for all of the bills that are starting to pile up. As homeowners and business owners reach this conclusion, they are left scratching their heads about what else can be done.

Many home mortgage lenders are seeing an influx in applications for loan adjustments, and many are responding with forebearance plans. In a forebearance plan, lenders agree not to force borrowers into foreclosure as long as they bring their loan payments current by the end of the term of the plan. In addition to loan modifications, New Jersey residents have another avenue to travel down if their home, business, building, or property of any type sustained damage due to Hurricane Sandy.

New Jersey law, specifically statute N.J.S.A. 54:4-35.1, states: “When any parcel of real property contains any building or other structure which has been destroyed, consumed by fire, demolished, or altered in such a way that its value has materially depreciated, either intentionally or by the action of storm, fire, cyclone, tornado, or earthquake, or other casualty, which depreciation of value occurred after October first in any year and before January first of the following year, the assessor shall, upon notice thereof being given to him by the property owner prior to January tenth of said year, and after examination and inquiry, determine the value of such parcel of real property as of said January first, and assess the same according to such value.”

What that means in layman’s terms is that property taxes are based on the value of a piece of land and the building(s) on that land. If any of those buildings were damaged so much that their market value has decreased, the homeowner or business owner is entitled to owe less in property taxes. In the case of Hurricane Sandy, commercial and residential property owners must make a request to have their tax assessor revalue their property by January 9, 2013.

It is possible that you may be required to attend a public hearing at your County Board of Taxation, and in this case it is highly recommended that you retain the services of an attorney and be sure that he or she is in attendance with you at the hearing.  Look for an attorney who specializes in real property or real estate, and ensure that he or she is licensed to practice law in New Jersey. All businesses aside from sole proprietorships are required to be represented by an attorney at the public hearing level.

Managing Your Home Loan After Hurricane Sandy

Photo courtesy of Greta Ceresini

With all of the property damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, homeowners who were in her path are facing problems that extend far beyond cleaning up and drying out. Job loss due to destruction of workplace buildings and excessive amounts of money spent on repairs are just two of the reasons that many Sandy victims are falling deeper and deeper into debt.

One way to soften the blow a little bit is to apply for a home loan modification. People living in the path of Hurricane Sandy are currently being given special considerations for mortgage adjustments with the intention of lowering their monthly  payments.  This will hopefully prevent many homeowners from facing a dreaded foreclosure and will keep them in their beloved homes. Some banks have automatically suspended all current or potential foreclosures in locations that were declared Hurricane Sandy disaster areas by FEMA.

Additionally, some mortgage lenders like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have given temporary mortgage payment breaks for their customers who were affected by the hurricane. This assistance comes in the form of forbearance plan. A forebearance plan is basically an agreement that a mortgage lender creates with borrowers who have encountered significant problems which have caused them financial difficulties, like serious health issues, temporary unemployment or natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy. In a forebearance agreement, the lender states that they will not force the borrower into foreclosure as long as the borrower promises to bring their payments current by the end of the term of the agreement.  Naturally, this isn’t a long-term solution, but it offers homeowners a temporary reprieve as they recover from natural disasters. Forebearance agreements usually last for approximately ninety days.

If your mortgage lender doesn’t seem willing to offer you a forebearance, you have several options. Your first option is to contact your lender and ask them directly if they will consider formulating a forebearance plan for your mortgage. Depending on your lender, this might actually work.  If contacting them proves unsucessful, have your collections attorney give them a call. Many times, banks and lending institutions will respond quickly when your attorney gets involved.

If a forebearance plan is out of the question, your second option is to apply for a loan modification, which will make changes to the original terms of your mortgage contract. These changes will be agreed to by you and your lender and may start out on a trial basis but become permanent once you show that you can successfully make the lowered payments on time. Loan modifications can include changes to your interest rate and the length of your loan with the intention of lowering your montly payment so that you can better afford it.

Ultimately, as you work hard to recover from the effects of Hurricane Sandy (or any natural disaster that may have unfortunately come your way) – keep in mind that you do not have to lose your home because of your temporary inability to make your mortgage payments.  There are solutions that were created specifically for the situation that you are currently facing, and you can take advantage of them on your own or with the help of a law firm that specializes in collections or loan modifications.

Did Hurricane Sandy Push You into Bankruptcy?

Photo courtesy of DvidsHub

If you were in the direct path of the eye of Hurricane Sandy, chances are good that your property was damaged in some way. Many people suffered from the effects of high winds that caused structural damage to their homes, while others closest to the coast or in low-lying areas were inundated with flood waters. Some people are now dealing with the aftermath of both wind and flood damage, and some homes were quite simply annihilated. What this means for quite a large number of people is that their homes aren’t the only things that were ruined.

As the relief efforts to restore areas damaged by Hurricane Sandy reach their limits, residents are starting to assess their own financial ability to finish what the volunteers have started.  For more than a few people, the outlook is grim.

Passionate volunteer groups like Kiwanis Club of New Jersey Young Professionals and the American Red Cross have done and continue to do what they can in terms of clean up and donations to the families who were displaced due to the storm. However, as most residents are now realizing, there is only so much that even the most passionate donors and volunteer groups can do. There is a limit to the help that can be given, even though these groups would do more if they could.

The combination of the assistance that has graciously been given by groups from around the country plus the financial aid of homeowner’s insurance has helped so many people get back on their feet.  Some people, however, were struggling before the storm hit, and are now finding it next to impossible to get back to anywhere near ‘normal.’ If you fall into this group, and you simply can’t seem to recover from the effects of this storm no matter how much help you have been given, it’s time to consult a bankrupcy attorney to see what your options are.

If you were struggling financially before Sandy, rebounding is going to be extra tough. Were you out of work prior to the storm? Maybe the effects of the storm put you out of work because your place of business was destroyed. Although it’s true that the storm created some temporary work in terms of relief efforts, many jobs were simply erased because of office buildings/restaurants/factories being damaged beyond repair.  Many of these businesses are now declaring bankruptcy, and maybe you should, too.

If you’ve given it the old college try, and you can’t seem to pull yourself above the figurative water line, you’ll need to talk to someone who knows first-hand what you’ve been going through.

Here at Veitengruber Law, not only are we located directly in Sandy’s path, but our employees were part of the volunteer relief efforts.  We experienced the storm and the aftermath first hand, and we also know how to help you recover further by wiping your debts clean and starting fresh.

If Sandy’s got you in dire straights, rest assured that we can help you get back on the path to a normal life again. We’re also willing to waive our consultation fee for anyone affected by the storm. We’re here to help, in more ways than one.

Hurricane Sandy: How Your Business Can Help

Photo courtesy of espensorvik

If you, like many other Americans, have been wondering what you or your business can do to help those who were devastated by Hurricane Sandy, rest assured that there is plenty to do, even from afar. Today, our office is taking a break from our usual law blog format to give you some information on what you can do.

Many large businesses have made monetary contributions because they can afford it without blinking an eye, and in fact many corporation giants actually do want to make a difference. Individuals who live close by have been lending a hand any way they can, by preparing meals for those who have been knocked out of their homes, offering a warm bed when possible, watching pets, rebuilding, and cleaning up the disaster areas.

If you are a small business owner and you would really love to help those who suffered a loss due to Hurricane Sandy, but you’re located too far away to lend a physical hand, consider contacting the American Red Cross. Always a group who helps those in need after a natural disaster, they’ve created a fund drive specifically for Sandy survivors that you can learn about by visiting their website.

What’s really cool is that they’ve even made it possible to donate via texting, which is how millions of Americans (and millions of people around the world) primarily communicate these days.  And, small business owners like you will probably wonder if donating in this manner will be deductible on your 2012 tax return.  The answer is unequivocally: yes.

To make donating to disaster survivors much easier and desirable to business owners everywhere, the IRS has made claiming text message donations on your taxes quite simple and clear. All you have to do is ensure that your cell phone bill clearly states the name of the organization that you donated money to, along with the date you made the donation and how much money you gave. If you’re not sure, contact your cell phone provider before your next bill is due.  If you pay your bill by automatic withdrawals, ask to have a one-time printing of your monthly statement.

This manner of donation seems to be very popular among many tech-savvy entrepreneurs, small business start-ups, and some individuals who are really pressed for time or for some other reason cannot feasibly donate their time or physical efforts.  Not only does donating monetarily help the clean-up teams and the hurricane survivors, but you’ll get a tax break out of it, which is good for you and/or your business as well. No one is trying to be selfish here, but we’ve all got to be practical.

And it’s not just the Red Cross who allows you to donate by texting these days.  Tons of local and nationwide groups offer the donate-by-text option in order to make it easier than ever to help out. If you’re interested in donating to one of your local relief centers or organizations in this manner, check out the IRS website.  There, you’ll find a search tool that allows you to search for tax deductible organizations.

For more information about what you can do to help Hurricane Sandy victims, call our office or check out the New Jersey Kiwanis Club of Young Professionals on Facebook.