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Sha'Ron James


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After the storm: Florida Bar offer legal assistance

 

Date: September 15, 2017
Source: Tallahassee Democrat
Author:  The Florida Bar

 

A legal aid hotline is now available for Hurricane Irma survivors in Florida who cannot pay for an attorney: 1-866-550-2929. The hotline operates through a partnership between The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division, the American Bar Association (ABA) Young Lawyers Division, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Both English and Spanish voicemail recordings give instructions for callers to leave a message requesting storm-related legal assistance, and to provide their name, telephone number, county of residence, and a description of their legal problems.

Assistance through this hotline is available to qualified Floridians affected by Hurricane Irma in all Florida counties. Those who qualify will be matched with Florida lawyers who have volunteered to provide free legal help such as:

• Securing FEMA and other benefits

• Making life, medical and property insurance claims

• Dealing with home repair contractors

• Replacing wills and other important legal documents destroyed in the hurricane

• Helping with consumer protection matters, remedies and procedures

• Counseling on mortgage-foreclosure problems or landlord/tenant issues

Callers can leave a message on the hotline at any time. Calls will be returned within two business days between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. There are some limitations: for example, assistance is not available for cases in which fees are paid as part of a settlement or award from a court. Such cases will be referred to a lawyer referral service. Funding for this hotline comes from FEMA under the authority of Section 415 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency assistance Act (Public Law 100-707).

Additional Resources for Floridians

Additional Florida Bar resources and information are listed at www.floridabar.org/hurricaneinfo and include:

Legal Assistance Consumer Guide – The Florida Bar’s “Mass Disaster” consumer guide provides information for consumers on whom to contact for legal assistance and how to protect their legal rights in the event of a mass disaster: linked here y en español aquí.

Florida Free Legal Answers – Florida Free Legal Answers is an online advice clinic to match low-income Floridians with licensed attorneys who can answer basic legal questions at florida.freelegalanswers.org. A temporary increase of the qualifying cap has been lifted so that Floridians affected by Hurricane Irma can post questions and receive answers from attorney volunteers through this Florida Bar/ABA program.

Legal Aid Assistance – Resources and volunteer opportunities for legal aid and pro bono attorneys and information to help Floridians seeking civil legal aid are listed at this webpage. The Florida Bar Foundation created the Florida Hurricane Legal Aid Fund for civil legal assistance for Floridians affected by Hurricane Irma and any subsequent hurricanes that make landfall in Florida.

Unethical Conduct – Those who feel they have been unfairly treated by a lawyer should contact The Florida Bar’s Attorney Consumer Assistance Program (ACAP) at 1-866-352-0707. Only Florida Bar members who are eligible to practice can give legal advice and provide legal services. If Floridians are concerned about a non-lawyer or organization giving legal advice, these consumer pamphlets provide information on “Hiring The Right Person To Help Me With My Legal Problems” and “Filing An Unlicensed Practice of Law Complaint” y en español aquí.

Price Gouging – Attorney General Pam Bondi activated Florida’s price gouging hotline for all consumers in Florida at 1-866-9-NO-SCAM (1-866-966-7226). Problems with insurance companies can be directed to the Attorney General’s office by calling 1-866-966-7226 or by calling the Florida Department of Financial Services at 1-800-342-2762.

Major Disaster Declaration

The full list of counties covered for FEMA Assistance to Individuals and Households (IA) is currently: Broward, Charlotte, Clay, Collier, Duval, Flagler, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Putnam, Sarasota, St. Johns (additional counties may be added later). See announcements in the Federal Register: https://www.fema.gov/disaster/notices/amendment-no-1-8 and https://www.fema.gov/disaster/notices/amendment-no-2-3.

People who have sustained property damage as a result of the severe storms and flooding are urged to register with FEMA, as they may be eligible for federal and state disaster assistance. People can register online at DisasterAssistance.gov or via smartphone or Web-enabled device at m.fema.gov. Applicants may also call 800-621-3362 or 800-462-7585 (TTY) from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. Flood survivors are also encouraged to call the FEMA hotline to report their damage. For more information on Florida’s recovery: https://www.fema.gov/hurricane-irma

Low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) are available for eligible applicants. SBA helps businesses of all sizes (including landlords), private nonprofit organizations, homeowners, and renters fund repairs or rebuilding efforts and cover the cost of replacing lost or damaged personal property. Disaster loans cover losses not fully compensated by insurance or other recoveries.

For more information, individuals may contact SBA’s Disaster Assistance Customer Service Center by calling 800-659-2955, emailing disastercustomerservice@sba.gov, or visiting SBA’s website at disasterloan.sba.gov. Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals may call 800-877-8339.

For more information on Florida’s recovery, visit the disaster Web page at https://www.fema.gov/hurricane-irma and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/fema.

Beware of Fraud

Both FEMA and the Florida Attorney General’s Office are warning Florida residents of the risk of fraud and common scams in the wake of the severe weather. Common post-disaster fraud practices include phony housing inspectors, fraudulent building contractors, bogus pleas for disaster donations, and fake offers of state or federal aid. Floridians are urged to ask questions and to require identification when someone claims to represent a government agency.

Survivors should also keep in mind that state and federal workers never ask for or accept money, and always carry identification badges with a photograph. There is no fee required to apply for or to receive disaster assistance from FEMA, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), or the state. Additionally, no state or federal government disaster assistance agency will call to ask for your financial account information. Unless you place a call to the agency yourself, you should not provide personal information over the phone as it can lead to identity theft. Those who suspect fraud can call the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 (toll free). Complaints may also be made to the Florida Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Hotline at 866-966-7226.

Use caution on roof repairs

The National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) is advising homeowners and business owners in the areas affected by Hurricane Irma to use extreme caution throughout the inspection and restoration process of their roof systems in the hurricane’s aftermath.

NRCA recommends inspection and repair of damaged roofs happen as quickly as possible. Most wind damage begins on the edges of roof systems. When roofing material loosens, the wind’s suction can raise the material and the wind’s pressure can further push the material. Once the roof system’s underside is exposed, not only can rain can get in, but it also gives the wind more to grab, resulting in a peeling effect. Subsequent winds continue to push roofing material up and over a little more each time until an entire corner of the deck or insulation become exposed.

Homeowners and business owners should not attempt a roof system inspection if it cannot be performed from the ground level nor should they attempt repairs on their own. Damage assessment of a roof system and subsequent repairs should be done by a professional roofing contractor.

Homeowners and business owners also should be aware of unprofessional contractors who may approach them about performing roof system repairs. If it is necessary to hire a roofing contractor, consumers should keep a healthy skepticism about the lowest bid. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Price is only one criterion for selecting a professional roofing contractor; professionalism and quality workmanship also must be considered. Potential contractors should be thoroughly evaluated before a deposit is made or any reroofing work begins.

To locate an NRCA professional contractor, homeowners and business owners can visit NRCA’s consumer website at www.everybodyneedsaroof.com.