Lawyer up: Free legal aid available for Sandy victims

NYLAG Mobile Legal Help Center. via NBC

Sandy has left her victims with many questions as people try to put their lives back together: Do I qualify for FEMA assistance if I’m a renter? What about my car that was filled with sea water and pushed into a mangled trash heap? What can I do if my apartment is now unlivable because of flooding, wind, or falling tree damage?

New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) and The Legal Aid Society have dispatched mobile units to help victims of the storm deal with a wide range of legal problems, including completing and submitting aid applications, applying for food stamps, and dealing with housing issues. My NY Legal Help has an extensive list of resources to help you find the answers. Here are some quick FAQs, and how you can help if you’re a lawyer.

  • Start here: FEMA’s after the disaster guide
  • If you lost work or income due to Hurricane Sandy, you may be eligible for Disaster Unemployment Assistance.
  • Homeowners can apply for the new NYC Rapid Repairs program, which will help get their homes fixed quickly without upfront cost.
  • The Small Business Administration provides low-interest disaster loans to businesses of all sizes (including nonprofits), up to $2 million. Renters and homeowners, a group that includes most sole proprietors, can borrow up to $40,000 for repairs and to replace things like appliances, furniture, automobiles, and clothing. Apply on their website or visit their temporary Business Recovery Center at Kings Co. IKEA1 Beard Street, Red Hook (Coney Island Room) Mon – Sun, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • If you’re a renter and your apartment sustained damage during the hurricane, or you have questions about your rights as a tenant to withhold rent or break the lease, start with this Tenants’ Hurricane Survival Guide.
  • Non-citizens can still qualify for FEMA aid.
  •  FEMA’s full list of federal aid available– such as  low interest loans, grants for home repairs, replacing personal property, and assistance with medical and other family needs, etc.– is available here.
If you want to talk to an attorney, here’s a list of free legal resources available for Hurricane Sandy victims.
  • NYLAG’ Storm Relief Effort will have staff attorneys and volunteers at disaster relief centers, community-based organizations, and hospitals to provide legal advice to victims dealing with issues including FEMA claims, housing disputes, consumer matters and emergency public benefits. NYLAG Mobile Legal Help Center Storm Response Unit will be in Red Hook at PAL Miccio Center (110 West 9th St.) on Thursday & Friday from 10am-4pm. See their schedule for more locations and dates. For immediate assistance with legal issues you can call their hotline at 212-584-3365 or email at StormHelp@nylag.org.
  • LawHelp.org/NY has disaster relief information and list of free legal aid providers.
  • New York State Bar Association‘s Sandy Relief hotline is 1-800-699-5636.
  • Legal Services NYC has a city-wide Sandy Recovery Hotline (available from 10a.m.-3p.m.), which is (347) 592-2411. LSNYC attorneys are also making visits to disaster areas in NYC, so you can call the hotline for more information on where to locate their attorneys, or to set up an appointment.
  • The Legal Aid Society‘s Sandy Relief Hotline is 1-888-663-6880.
  • Make the Road is providing legal assistance for Spanish-speaking and immigrant New Yorkers. They can help you find and access emergency services and make sure that language access and immigration status do not prevent anyone from getting the shelter, supplies and help they need. Call (718) 418-7690.
  • The Family Center is providing legal services to families and individuals impacted by Hurricane SandyThese services include legal counseling and representation for hurricane-affected New Yorkers who are experiencing difficulty with housing or public benefits, such as social security or food stamps. Please contact The Family Center at (212) 766-4522 ext. 150.
  • New York County Lawyers’ Association’s Legal Counseling Project can help you with legal issues that arise while dealing with insurance claims and coverage issues. Call 212-267-6646 for more info. Also, if you are an attorney who has been displaced from office space because of the storm, NYCLA can help match you with firms that have space to share. Contact contact Diana Lamb at dlamb@nycla.org.
  • ABA Disaster Legal Services Program‘s NY Hurricane Sandy hotline number is 1-800-699-5636.
  • Pro Bono Partnership is providing legal advice for non-profits in NY who have Sandy-related issues. For assistance you can email them or call at (973) 240-6955
  • National Disaster Legal Aid This website includes information on disaster-related legal services.

LAWYERS, your help is invaluable to getting people back on their feet after this disaster. Visit probono.net for many ways to get involved in helping relief efforts.