Recovering from the Great Flood of 2016

The New Orleans Times Picayune reports that debris removal in several parishes following the Great Flood of 2016 in Louisiana began today. As tens of thousands of homeowners and businesses gut their properties, removing flood debris is a major step in community recovery.

An often overlooked obstacle to recovery can be FEMA refusal to reimburse local governments for the cost of debris removal in homeowner associations. FEMA often classifies homeowner association streets and canals as private property. Under this classification, a local government that removes disaster debris from a homeowner association may not be eligible for FEMA reimbursement for these disaster response costs.

A finding by FEMA that homeowner association streets and canals are private property means homeowners are solely responsible for the expense of removing debris from their community.

In large-scale disasters such as the Great Flood of 2016, local governments may petition FEMA for a determination that debris removal from homeowner associations is in the public interest. To make such a request of FEMA, local governments must certify that destruction within the community is widespread and that disaster debris in homeowner associations is a threat to human health and safety and community recovery.

If FEMA concludes that debris removal from homeowner association streets and canals is in the public interest, FEMA requires local governments to show permission from homeowners to remove disaster debris. Additionally, FEMA may also require local governments to prove a pre-existing legal obligation to remove disaster debris from homeowner associations. This may be in the form of a contractual agreement between the homeowner association and the local government or an obligation arising out of ordinance or statute. FEMA does not consider a trash removal contract to meet the pre-existing legal obligation standard.

U.S. Representatives Mark Sanford, Steve Israel, and Jerrold Nadler have introduced legislation that eliminates bureaucratic obstacles to disaster recovery in homeowner associations. H.R. 3863, the Disaster Assistance Equity Act, ensures that local governments can meet the disaster response needs of homeowner associations in the same manner as all other neighborhoods in their communities.

If your homeowner association has been denied federal disaster debris removal assistance, please contact Community Associations Institute for more information on H.R. 3863 and the actions you can take to jumpstart recovery in your neighborhood.

For more information on disaster assistance for homeowner associations, visit the Community Associations Institute website on disaster assistance. For a deeper look at the issue, read the Community Associations Institute white paper, Federal Disaster Policy and Community Association Homeowners.

Email to share your neighborhood’s disaster recovery story and if your homeowner association has been ruled eligible for debris removal assistance.


Additional resources for homeowner and condominium associations—

»      FEMA—Apply for Disaster Assistance

»      The Community Association Guide to Appealing a FEMA Disaster Assistance Denial

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