2013-02-01 / Top Stories

Oceanfront Owners Face Tide Of Uncertainty

By Katie McFadden

Three months after Sandy, many beachfront homes in Belle Harbor appear to be in the same condition that they were in on October 30th. Several owners are looking to rebuild but the process has been anything but easy. With unanswered questions, confusion and a lack of funds, the only thing that is building at this point is frustration among these oceanfront homeowners.

When water swept through the peninsula, the homes on the beach were at the front line against the war that was waged by the powerful waves caused by Hurricane Sandy. Many lost the battle. Million dollar homes were reduced to rubble, torn to shreds and in many cases, left unrecognizable.

Many oceanfront homeowners are trying to start the rebuilding process, but as Jeffry Gitter, who owns a beachfront home on 135th Street said, “It’s a waiting game.”

Several of the owners can’t even begin to consider that part of the process three months after the storm.

“Right now I can’t even think beyond demolition,” Lina Plantilla, a 68-yearold owner of a beachfront home on 141st Street said.

When Plantilla saw her home the day after Sandy, “it was beyond words,” she said. The foundation collapsed, the second floor of the house crashed into the first floor and all of the furniture was gone without a trace. Plantilla’s home was immediately tagged for demolition.

Yet three months later, the demolition hasn’t been done to many homes. It’s not because the owners haven’t been trying. The Plantillas, who are currently living in Brooklyn, are in an ongoing battle with insurance companies and other groups who refuse to answer simple questions.

Plantilla has flood and homeowner’s insurance but she has not received any funds. Her homeowner’s insurance provider, Travelers determined that her home didn’t qualify for coverage since “all of the damage was done by flooding,” Plantilla said.

“I’m paying insurance premiums all this time and now they’re telling us we’re not covered for one penny,” Plantilla said about Travelers.

Plantilla said her flood insurance company, Hartford is also playing games. She hasn’t received any money from them either as they keep asking for more information and photos before they’ll give her a dime.

She hired a public adjuster to fight the insurance companies and spoke to a few private contractors and the New York City Department of Buildings to determine how much it would cost to demolish her house. Buildings wouldn’t give her an estimate and her insurance companies couldn’t even tell her if they would cover the demolition, no matter what the price is.

Several others are in a similar situation and have also turned to the Department of Buildings to demolish their homes. Gitter of 135th and Kate Douglass Rigaut, who owns a destroyed home on 131st, have insurance plans that won’t cover demolition, so the city offered to take care of it for free, but they’re paying the price with wasted time. They signed up on a list to have their houses torn down, but they weren’t given any sort of idea of when it would happen.

Neither Gitter, Plantilla or Rigaut were given a definite date. The Department of Buildings told Plantilla that she would be given three days notice before demolition. Rigaut was told that the Army Corps of Engineers would come to demolish the house and that she would receive a letter explaining when it would take place.

“That’s where I stand, waiting for a letter,” Rigaut said.

Bill Gauge’s beachfront home between 129th and 130th fared better than others. He was able to start the rebuilding process on his own since his house doesn’t need to be demolished.

Gauge and his family made so much progress that they were able to move in on December 6th and LIPA told him his house was the first on the peninsula to get electricity. While continuing to rebuild, Gauge is still waiting on his insurance company to give money to repair his damaged roof.

While many have intentions of rebuilding, and others have already started, some beachfront owners don’t want to go through the rebuilding process. Rene Roth is helping her 84-year-old mother, Ruth Kogut try to sell her beachfront home on Beach 142nd Street.

“After this happened, she decided she had enough,” Roth said, on behalf of her mother. Roth’s mother did not have flood insurance and could not afford to repair the home which had the front wall ripped away.

Roth is attempting to sell the house but will consider fixing it up and renting it out if the family does not receive a reasonable offer.

Despite dealing with this nightmare, Plantilla, Rigaut and Gitter are planning to stick around.

“We’re refugees but we’ll be back,” Rigaut, who’s currently living in New Jersey, said.

“I’ve got more saltwater running through my veins than blood,” Gitter said. He’s not quite ready to give up on the home that he called a “lifelong dream” to own.

Yet these homeowners still need a lot of help in dealing with unreliable insurance companies, the city and other groups. Plantilla hopes politicians and local government will help the homeowners fight to get some answers and some relief. She also suggested that frustrated homeowners come together.

“If we’re all getting the same responses from insurance companies, we should all band together and see if we can fight them as a group,” she said.

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