Can I Receive Hurricane Sandy Forbearance if I Filed for Bankruptcy?

Homeowners in New Jersey and all along the Atlantic coast will be hard-pressed to ever forget Hurricane Sandy – a deadly “superstorm” that hit the eastern seaboard in October of 2012. Assessed as the second-costliest hurricane to ever hit the United States, estimates of Sandy’s damage (in the US alone) are approximately $72 billion. The only hurricane in US history to cause more damage was Hurricane Katrina.

New York and New Jersey were the hardest hit states, with gale force winds that reached 90 mph and heavy rain (up to 12 inches in some locations) which led to flooding and significant structural damage of homes, businesses, beaches, boardwalks, roads, and more. Power outages were widespread and lasted for weeks in some places. For the first time since 1888, the New York Stock Exchange closed (on October 29 and 30) due to weather. Even Halloween was postponed in New Jersey, much to the chagrin of kids across the state.

As we hyper-focus on the damage done by Hurricane Sandy to New Jersey alone, we know that nearly 400,000 homes suffered damage from the storm, many were without power for an extended period of time, and 37 people died.

Relief efforts to clean up and rebuild the damaged areas of New Jersey were impressive, and some (but not enough) federal aid monies were approved for the state. Some of that federal aid was disbursed extremely slowly which means the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy is still felt today, nearly five years after the storm.

Residents along the New Jersey shore sustained the most damage – both from flooding and high winds – to their homes and properties. The fact that five years has passed should mean that everyone in NJ has recovered from the storm; unfortunately that just isn’t the case. Although many people and organizations dedicated extraordinary man hours and donations toward the recovery effort, there are homeowners who still remain displaced and/or are facing foreclosure.

The good news is that Governor Christie recently signed a bill (S-2300, A-333) that will potentially offer some much needed help to those who are still struggling post-Sandy. The bill specifically grants Sandy victims with a mortgage forbearance period of up to three years. In order to receive the forbearance, homeowners must have been approved for help via the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation Program OR the Low-to-Moderate Income Program.

Affected NJ homeowners struggled for years trying to rebuild their homes after Sandy. Without enough funds to make their homes habitable again, a multitude of these residents had to rent alternative housing. Paying rent while still paying the mortgage on their now damaged property pushed many homeowners into bankruptcy.

Many homeowners filed for the protection offered by the Automatic Stay in the hopes that funding would be released before their bankruptcy case was finalized. Not realizing how long it would take for federal relief funds to be released, their bankruptcy cases ended long ago, and many of the homeowners chose not to reaffirm their mortgages.

Now that bill S-2300, A-333 has been signed, those who filed for bankruptcy and didn’t reaffirm their mortgages are wondering if they still qualify for forbearance. The good news is that a lender may not require that a mortgage be reaffirmed in order for the mortgage holder to receive forbearance.

Homeowners who’ve filed for bankruptcy without reaffirming their mortgages may have to provide their lender with a letter acknowledging that the mortgage debt was discharged in bankruptcy. This protects lenders/creditors from worrying that they’ll be sued when they try to collect on the debt again.

It’s very possible that lenders will not feel comfortable discussing the matter directly with the homeowner. They don’t want to seem as though they are breaking bankruptcy law by attempting to collect on a discharged debt. In this case, borrowers should work with a bankruptcy or foreclosure attorney in New Jersey to negotiate with their lender on their behalf.

 

Image: “Crooked House” by Don McCullough – licensed under CC by 2.0

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