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Schneiderman announces resources to aid homeowners and consumers impacted by Buffalo-area snowstorm

by jmaloni


Wed, Dec 3rd 2014 06:30 pm

Regional housing counseling and legal services providers under the attorney general's homeowner protection program to help residents deal with insurance companies and mortgage providers during recovery effort

Schneiderman calls on banks, mortgage providers and utility companies to suspend late fees following temporary suspension of postal service during storm

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today met with local leaders in Buffalo and announced he is making a network of housing counselors and legal services providers available to help area residents resolve issues with insurance companies and mortgage providers following extensive home damage from record snowfall. The home owner protection program and its network of lawyers and housing counselors will be available to help consumers resolve outstanding insurance claims, address contractor issues, and navigate other storm-related problems that could impact homeownership. 

Schneiderman also announced he is calling on banks, mortgage providers and utility companies to suspend late fees following the temporary suspension of the U.S. Postal Service. Mail delivery was suspended for several days, creating potential for a backlog in delivering mail, including key correspondence like utility bills, credit card statements and other bills. The late payment of bills could result in fees and harm to consumers' credit ratings.

"New Yorkers pull together during difficult times, and that is why our team of lawyers and housing counselors are ready to help Western New Yorkers impacted by this severe snowstorm," Schneiderman said. "Many families have been hit hard enough by the weather, and that is why we want to make additional resources available to homeowners and consumers in need."

In addition to offering the services of the HOPP network, Schneiderman also announced he has created an "escalations unit" within his Buffalo regional office. This unit will engage directly with an insurance provider or lender on behalf of a consumer who is having problems with a mortgage lender or insurance provider if referred by one of the HOPP organizations. The program is modeled after the OAG program, which the attorney general launched following "Superstorm" Sandy to assist homeowners in New York City and Long Island. 

The 10-county region affected by the record snowstorm will have access to six legal service organizations and eight housing counseling agencies. They include:

  • Belmont Housing Resources for WNY Inc.
  • Buffalo Urban League Inc.
  • Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Rochester, Inc.
  • Friends of the North Country Inc.
  • Home HeadQuarters Inc.
  • Housing Assistance Program of Essex County Inc.
  • Legal Aid Society of Mid NY
  • Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York Inc.
  • Legal Assistance of Western New York Inc.
  • Legal Services of Central NY
  • The Legal Project
  • UNHS NeighborWorks HomeOwnership Center
  • Western New York Law Center Inc.
  • West Side Neighborhood Housing Services

The Empire Justice Center, a statewide nonprofit that assists the attorney general's office in administering the HOPP program, also will be providing training and technical assistance to HOPP grantees on insurance claim advocacy during this initiative. 

U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr., Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, State Sen. Tim Kennedy and Joe Kelemen, executive director of the Western New York Law Center, joined Schneiderman today at a press conference in Buffalo.

"There are undoubtedly many people in need who will be able to take advantage of government resources," Hochul said. "At same time, however, based on the experiences of our office in the past, there may be some who attempt to take advantage of these programs for private gain. This office stands ready to ensure that any money will only go to those who it is intended for, and efforts to steal from these funds will be prosecuted."

"When the storm disrupted mail and other business for a number of days last week, residents were left facing a ticking clock as bills came due and late fees loomed," Poloncarz said. "Families have a friend in Attorney General Schneiderman, who is working to protect them from unreasonable financial penalties incurred by the storm. His assistance is helping homeowners and families across Erie County."

"The recent snowstorm demonstrated the very best that Buffalo and Western New York has to offer, with neighbors helping neighbors through an historic storm," Brown said. "While most people extended a helping hand, I'm glad Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has been fighting would-be price-gougers and is making housing counselors available to those still coping with problems following the storm."

"I am proud to stand with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman today to ensure we're making resources available to the people of Buffalo and Western New York following the recent snow storm," Kennedy said."The attorney general's home owner protection program's housing counselors will be of tremendous help to those with questions on home repairs and filing insurance claims, and are exactly what we need to make sure that property owners know they are not alone in navigating this process."

"We are proud to stand with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to assist Western New Yorkers with housing-related issues following the historic snowfall that blanketed the region," Kelemen said. "Families recovering from a natural disaster deserve the support they need in dealing with insurance claims and other recovery efforts, and we are happy to help our neighbors with this effort."

The homeowner protection program, launched by Schneiderman in 2012, is a network of more than 85 organizations across New York that assist homeowners who are struggling to avoid foreclosure. The HOPP program can be reached 24 hours a day at 1-855-HOME-456 or online at www.AGHomeHelp.com. Since the launch, the HOPP program has assisted more than 34,000 families with high-quality foreclosure prevention services that are free of charge to all New York families.

Since the start of the storm, Schneiderman's office has received at least 60 complaints of price-gouging in the wake of the storm, and sent at least 39 cease and desist letters. All complaints remain under investigation. Categories of complaints include price gouging for: 

  • Snow removal from roof: 17
  • Snow removal from driveway/plowing: 17
  • Groceries: 12
  • Towing: 12
  • Gas: 1
  • Equipment rental: 1

The attorney general urges the public to report potential occurrences of price-gouging by calling 800-771-7755 or by logging on to the office's website at www.ag.ny.gov.

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