HOBOKEN, N.J. —
“A store or apartment that requires you to walk down one or two steps is plain and simply not a basement,” Zimmer told the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
“For many people, that’s their primary residence. It’s where they have the kitchen, the bedroom,” Zimmer said in an interview. “It’s their home.”
A basement is classified as “any area of the building, including any sunken room or sunken portion of a room, having its floor below ground level (subgrade) on all sides,” according to a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Basement flood coverage is limited to items including central air conditioners, hot water heaters and “cisterns and the water in them,” according to the program’s website.
Floors, paneling and most personal property in buildings classified as basements are not covered.
Jersey City resident Patrick Donnelly is suing a number of insurance companies, saying he and others were denied damage claims after Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Sandy. A judge will decide if the suit can move forward as a class action.
“We’re seeing situations where the insurance company is denying claims in buildings we do not believe met the definition of a basement,” said Jeffrey A. Bronster, Donnelly’s lawyer.
Jersey City mayor Jerramiah Healy said he thinks the lawsuit is a “valid argument.”
Elsewhere, “traditionally a basement is where you throw stuff. It’s 8 to 10 feet below the ground,” Healy said. “Here in Jersey City we have a lot of places that are ground level or 3 feet below. It’s living space.”
Property owners with a mortgage are required to have federal flood insurance. The policies are issued by private insurance companies.
Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America and former federal insurance administrator, said insurance is typically calculated on the ground level of a structure. Anything below that is typically classified as a basement, he said.