Common Ground Magazine turns to Kotzas regarding homeowner association response to Superstorm Sandy

hurricane damage
March/April 2013 – Homefront
Superstorm Sandy
Associations in Recovery Mode

Reprinted with permission from Common Ground™
magazine, March/April 2013

When Superstorm Sandy tore through the East Coast late last October, it left a wake of devastation, particularly in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Months later, many of the hardest hit are still sifting through the wreckage in attempts to piece together their lives, homes and communities.

The township of Toms River, N.J., a Jersey shore community located 75 miles south of New York City, experienced sunken roads, eroded beaches, the loss of its natural gas supply and entire homes vanishing without a trace. Many residents of the town’s barrier island had to wait weeks before they were allowed to evaluate damages and weren’t allowed to move back until early February—four months after the storm hit.

“I’m going to be honest, this is always the thing that happens to the other person,” says Mike Shumsky, a board member of Surfs Cottage Homeowners Association on the Toms River barrier island. “It’s a humbling experience.”

As Surfs Cottage residents began their long journey home, they quickly realized they needed to rely on one another. To help facilitate this communal partnership, Shumsky says the board made sure to keep lines open with residents by creating a website and holding meetings to inform residents of rebuilding updates and resources and to answer their questions. They also worked together to get volunteers from AmeriCorps and Surfrider to help with restoration efforts.

Perhaps the board’s most notable act of solidarity, though, occurred when the town offered to rebuild Surfs Cottages’ dunes, but only if the association agreed to sell the town strips of its private beach property for easement purposes. The association declined the offer, and instead, residents called in favors to get the materials and heavy machinery needed for repairs donated.

The association did the work itself for a fraction of what it would have cost to hire contractors for the project. By banding together and utilizing residents’ resources and knowledge, Shumsky says Surfs Cottage is starting to find its footing once again.

While the first restoration phase may finally be making progress, Steve Kotzas, an association attorney in Toms River, says there are plenty of potential issues devastated communities like Surfs Cottage still may face. Kotzas worries that many residents and associations could find their insurance doesn’t fully cover the damage—even if they had both flood insurance and liability or homeowners insurance. He says that could slow down rebuilding efforts and possibly lead to a wave of litigation in the near future.

Once residents and associations are able to start construction, Kotzas says rebuilding guidelines could be problematic as well. Like several other towns affected by Sandy, Toms River is allowing “any principal structure” to be rebuilt to the size and configuration it was prior to the storm, regardless of whether that structure meets current building regulations. While this is meant to help residents, Kotzas says rebuilding a structure that’s not compliant with current regulations can hurt its marketability to future buyers and leave the structure more vulnerable to future storms.

“The biggest concern would be even if I can legally rebuild my house as it was, do I really want to?” asks Kotzas.

For homeowners and communities worried about the implications of rebuilding their homes as they were pre-Sandy, Kotzas recommends talking with the town planner and the town zoning officer to come up with a strategy.

© Community Associations Institute. The above article is reprinted with permission from Common Ground™ magazine, published by Community Associations Institute. Further reproduction and distribution is prohibited without written consent. Go to www.caionline.org for more information.

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