This article has been adapted from reporting done by THE CITY after 2021’s Hurricane Ida. You can read that original guide here.
By now, it’s a familiar and destructive pattern: A storm sweeps into New York, turning subway stations into fountains, rendering streets impassable and bringing water into homes wherever it can seep in.
Basement apartments and low-lying homes are especially hard-hit when fast-falling rain comes; in 2021’s Hurricane Ida, the results were deadly for 13 New Yorkers living in subgrade homes.
Some people get walloped by water surging close to the coast in a storm, while others are inundated by heavy rain even if they live nowhere near the harbor. (Check your location on storm and rainwater flood maps here.)
If you’re facing down a water-logged home, here is some information and resources to help you start picking up the pieces.
How do I start cleaning up, and when?
First thing: Be very cautious about going back into your home after a flood.
Water can weaken a building’s structure, standing water may be electrified and there’s a good chance stormwater contains sewage and hazardous chemicals.
Never wade into standing water, and if you need to pump water out of underground areas, do it slowly to avoid a potential cave-in of damaged walls.
If the water has receded or been pumped out and it’s safe to start cleaning up, don’t grab the mop first — get your camera.
“Before you throw away anything, before you cut your walls, you should photograph everything,” said Peter Gudaitis, executive director of New York Disaster Interfaith Services.
Whether it’s for a potential insurance claim down the line, a court fight with your landlord over repairs (more on that later) or to apply for federal disaster assistance (if you can), you’re going to need proof of the damage, Gudaitis said.
“When you throw things out on the street, take photographs of what was there,” he said. “You want to document everything. Everything that you buy — keep the receipt … clothing, furniture, appliances, vehicles.”
What to save, what to scrap
Get ready to throw out a lot. Anything porous that flood waters touched should be considered contaminated by sewage and trashed, experts say.
“Anything that it’s not fully sealed, that you can’t wash, you want to make sure you throw that out,” said Michael de Vulpillieres, a spokesperson for the Red Cross of Greater New York.
That includes food, toiletries, clothing, mattresses, sofas and even appliances — because the water often ruins their electronics, Gudaitis noted.
“The biggest worry is that people will try to keep things that they shouldn’t keep that are just dangerous. You know, ‘The sofa will dry out.’ The sofa will not dry out, safely. That’s just a fact. At the very least it will mildew and most likely it will mold,” he said.
Some hard-surfaced items such as pots and pans can be thoroughly washed and saved. But anything that could absorb water has to go — including the walls of your apartment.
“Once drywall is wet, it’s done,” Gudaitis said. “Its strength is gone, and it will mold.”
Walls, insulation and flooring will likely need to be replaced, even with relatively minor flooding. Several inches can do serious damage.
The city’s health department has many resources on understanding health risks from mold, with tips on how to clean and manage mold damage. They suggest that if the area is relatively small — less than a three-by-three-foot patch — you can tackle cleaning it yourself, but anything larger will likely require professional help.
If I have to leave my flooded apartment, where can I go?
Short-term, the Red Cross can help a limited number of households displaced by emergencies like a flood, fire or building collapse. To get housing help, call 311.
“We want people to call 311 if they’ve had flooding in their homes and they have to leave, or they think they might have to leave,” said de Vulpillieres of the Red Cross. “We work really closely with the city, so they’ll refer us to those people that need housing.”
New Yorkers in need may also call the Red Cross hotline at (877) RED-CROSS or call the New York City chapter of the Red Cross at (877) 733-2767.
All New Yorkers have a right to shelter in the city, and the Department of Homeless Services runs shelter intakes centers 24 hours a day. For more information, visit this page from the Coalition for the Homeless.
And the city’s Office of Emergency Management has additional resources for help with housing, food, clothing, crisis counseling and more here.
How can I pay for repairs and replacements, and where can I get financial help?
For renters, Gudaitis said to bear in mind that repairs to an apartment are a “landlord’s responsibility, flat out” and your building’s owner cannot charge rent while your home is unsafe to occupy.
“Landlords are 100% responsible for everything except for [renters’] possessions,” he said.
Making sure landlords abide by that rule, however, can be tough. Having proof of damage — in case legal action is necessary — is key, Gudaitis advised. The city’s Department of Social Services has more information on how to get legal help for housing issues here.
Tenants are responsible for the cost of their own ruined personal belongings. You may get some relief if you have renters insurance. But flooding is not automatically covered under a basic renters policy, according to the state’s Department of Financial Services.
- Here’s a guide from the DFS on how to file a flood insurance claim.
- The DFS also has a Disaster Hotline for insurance help: (800) 339-1759
But many city homeowners aren’t insured for flooding, especially in neighborhoods that don’t appear on coastal flood maps. (For more, read this guide on how to find yourself on New York’s flood maps, and how to prepare for the next storm.)
“We have a serious issue. People in areas like Crown Heights don’t have flood insurance because, why would they?” said Beth Malone, a program manager for resiliency and insurance at NHS Brooklyn, an affordable housing nonprofit.
Property owners who believe city negligence is to blame for their flooding damage can use this form to file a claim with the Comptroller’s Office. The claim must be filed within 90 days of the incident, comptroller staff said, and could result in a settlement after an investigation by that office.
As heavy rains hit New York City, Long Island and the Hudson Valley on Friday, Sept. 29, Gov. Kathy Hochul issued a state of emergency. That is important for emergency planning, but also for what funds may be available for New Yorkers down the line from the state and the federal government.
Also on Friday, city emergency management commissioner Zachary Iscol said an emergency declaration is “very, very important as we move into the recovery phase.”
“One of the things that’s needed as we start to assess the damage that has occurred — to either people’s homes, private and personal property, businesses — the state of emergency is then something we can use as we are going to the state and FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] for support to aid in individual assistance, business loans or grants that can help people recover after the flood waters have receded,” he said.
Iscol encouraged New Yorkers with property damage, including owners, renters and business owners, to report that damage to reportdamage.nyc.gov, a portal that helps the city determine the scale of damage as they report it to the state and federal agencies.
If the storm is large or severe enough for a federal disaster declaration, that would unlock funds from FEMA that could reimburse New Yorkers coping with damage from a storm.
“If individual assistance is approved, you simply call up on the phone and you say what happened to your house and they decide on the spot what kind of money you’re entitled to,” Gudaitis said.
FEMA made those disaster declarations after both Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Ida.
If everything goes smoothly, funds arrive within a few days. But FEMA assistance is limited, and often doesn’t cover all losses. The maximum amount awarded to any household during a given disaster is $34,900.
Check the FEMA disaster declaration pages for updates about if and how financial help will be made.’