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Sandy Victim Gets $37.74 in Insurance for Destroyed Home

Woodbridge homeowner Jason Crea's house was totaled in Hurricane Sandy. He took out his anger on a $37.74 check from his insurance company in a sign letting the world know his plight.

NORTHERN JERSEY -- Drive down Watson Avenue in Woodbridge, and you'll notice an odor. It's a musty, moldy smell that permeates a street that some say was the hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy's storm surge back in October.

On a sunny day in January, you hear the sound of workers roofing a house denuded by the hurricane, or chucking out yet more storm-damaged possessions.

Every other house, it seems, has a neon-orange tag noting the building is unsafe to enter.

Even among all this leftover misery, Jason Crea's Watson Avenue home stands out. Not just because it's the hardest hit home on the hardest hit street in Woodbridge. Or because the basement walls on both sides of the steps were blown out by the storm surge.

It's the big sign that Crea erected right over a bird's eye view into his house's basement where a foot of water still stands: "Allstate Gave Us $37.74 and All We Got Was This Lousy Sign".

That was the amount Crea has received so far from Allstate, his homeowner's insurance carrier, since Hurricane Sandy destroyed his home.

But in the interests of full disclosure, Crea said the amount was originally for $1,037.74. 

"I got $37.74 after they subtracted my $1,000 deductible," Crea said.

Battling the Insurance Company

Crea knows the meaning of disgust, anger, and now gallows humor with his sign.

But it's no joke. He's been battling the insurance company since they sent out an adjuster who "smiled constantly while he told us nothing was covered," Crea said.

Crea's home, and all of Watson Avenue, backs up onto a branch of the Woodbridge River called - appropriately enough - Woodbridge Creek.

But it wasn't a creek when Sandy hit. Most of Crea's end of Watson Avenue looked like a lake, which explains why so many homes on the street stand condemned.

Crea, 28, and his wife, Tiffany, had just gotten married and moved into their home in September, 2010 - just in time for Hurricane Irene.

"We were fine. We didn't get much water at all," he said.

The Fine Print

The previous owners of his home had built it, and even with the full basement, there had never been anything more than a few inches of water in the basement.

The house sits in a flood plain, and Crea was required to purchase federal flood insurance. He was fine with that. 

The basement isn't finished for obvious reasons, but Crea, who is a part-time music instructor in his native Staten Island, used the space to store his valuable musical instruments and sound system, as well as a collection of memorabilia and a home gym.

"When I bought the contents policy, I explained to [Allstate] that I have a lot of expensive stuff in the basement. They just smiled and took my money," Crea said.

The thing they didn't bother mentioning, and what was in the fine print, is that the basement isn't considered a room in the house.

The upshot is that none of Crea's belongings in the basement were covered by the flood insurance or by the Allstate contents policy.

The mudroom in the back of the house, though, is above the flood plain, the insurance agent said, so anything in that area would be eligible for reimbursement. Crea said the storm surge caused items he had in that area to upend and fall into the basement.

"The water came within a few inches of the rafters in the basement. All the stuff in the mudroom fell into the water," he said. 

Crea pointed it all out to the adjuster. "He didn't write down a thing. But he did smile a lot," Crea said with a bemused grin.

Meanwhile, the foundation walls of Crea's home were collapsing.

Swimming to Save Valuables

Under a mandatory evacuation order, Crea, his wife, and his dog spent the night of Hurricane Sandy in the Woodbridge Community Center, which was set up as an evacuation center for Middlesex County.

He spent the first day swimming to his house to save his valuables. The next day he was back at his full time job - he's a senior substation operator for ConEd in New York, and he had to get the lights on for New Yorkers, particularly Staten Islanders who were hard-hit by the flood.

Crea moved his family back to his mother's home in Staten Island.

"Ironic, isn't it? I moved out two years, and now I'm back," he said. His parents' home is high on a hill and survived Sandy, but his mother lost her job when the retail store she works in perished in the hurricane.

So now Crea is paying his mortgage, paying his parents rent, and paying a storage facility to hold the belongings he and his wife rescued from their Watson Avenue home.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) gave him some money to replace a washer and dryer, but that's been pretty much it.

Crea isn't eligible for much else, not even rental assistance. "FEMA said I make too much money," he said.

The way things stand now, Crea is hoping that the paperwork is moving through Woodbridge's building department - whom Crea said has been very helpful - to have his home declared as irrepairable. That means he'd be eligible to get the full amount of insurance to rebuild, about $200,000, not including contents.

"The goal is to get a total loss on the house. Allstate would have to give us 100 percent, and then we'd rebuild," he said.

Allstate was contacted for this story, but they did not return calls by press time.

Meanwhile, Crea saved the initial $37.74 check he got from Allstate.

"I didn't even cash it. I'm gonna frame it," he said. "It's criminal what they are doing."

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Mary Anne Looby January 08, 2013 at 01:38 PM
I would love for you to continue to follow this story. If Allstate has really screwed these people, I want to know it. I will drop Allstate and find another insurer.
Dave January 08, 2013 at 02:42 PM
This is some of the poorest journalism I've read on a Patch. The real title of this article should read "Homeowner Mad Because They Bought A Property In A Flood Plain And Didn't Purchase Enough Insurance...Now Feels They Are A Victim Because The Federal Government Won't Give Them $200,000 To Cover Their Mistake." Living in a flood plain or on a barrier island and never expecting to be flooded is the same as living in the desert and crying about a drought. When are we going to learn?
Bernardo January 08, 2013 at 03:08 PM
Well said, Dave.
Basora January 08, 2013 at 03:49 PM
The devil is in the details ... an insurance policy is a contract ... a legally binding MUTUAL agreement. Read it and understand it, including the fine print. Then decide if it is worth paying for. On the other hand, Allstate and all of its affiliated companies such as Encompass are known for "putting on the boxing gloves" when it comes to settling claims. Do a simple Google search on "Allstate and deceptive tactics" or any other similar word and you will find countless articles about their claims practices that are in direct conflict of their advertised public image of being in "Good Hands". There is no doubt that Allstate is by far the most difficult insurance company to deal with as they have a deny, deny, deny attitude towards just about every claim. Whether you are making a claim against an insured of Allstate or you yourself are insured by Allstate and making a claim against them for a loss, the "Good Hands" turn into boxing gloves very quickly. Take a moment to read the following article published in the Sarasota Herald Tribune: http://holzeredwardsinjurylawyers.com/2011/09/allstate-insurance-abuses-people-plain-and-simple/
Mary Anne Looby January 08, 2013 at 04:30 PM
Thanks for the info Gerry, I will be sitting down with my agent very soon. this is the second case to hit the internet regarding Allstate and Sandy.
tamarya January 08, 2013 at 05:20 PM
Agreed dave, just like another good one are people that rent and do not purchase renters insurance, then lose their apartment in a fire and have their hands out for donations.
Basora January 08, 2013 at 05:44 PM
Be careful in what you say to your agent ... and remember who s/he works for ... You don't want to alienate the only ally you may have with the company!
Mom of DnNnD January 08, 2013 at 06:29 PM
When you sign an agreement or contract it is up to you to read and understand the fine print. Ignorance is not a justifiable argument. This is the second article I read that the homeowners tried to put the blame on the insurance company. This guy should have read the fine print and purchased additional riders or policies if necessary. The other article stated how the homeowners canceled their flood insurance just days before Sandy hit and tried to say that the flooding didn't damage their house but the winds did. Seriously. And this story must be true because their neighbors called them and told them because they weren't home at the time.
Mike Roseman January 08, 2013 at 06:57 PM
Agreed. How is this news? 1) Standard insurance doesn't cover water entering a home except via broken pipe. 2) Flood insurance has a separate provision for "w/ contents" for additional cost, which obviously this person did not purchase.
Kathleen January 08, 2013 at 10:41 PM
It's all well and good for everyone to chime in and play armchair quarterback, saying that people shoul read and understand their insurance policies. Conceptually, that makes perfect sense. But, the average person just isn't in a position to read, understand, and interpret an insurance contract. They rely upon experts, especially insurance brokers, to provide that input and guidance. And the reality is that many insurance companies will "fight back", denying claims and knowing full well that the average Joe isn't equipped to take on the fight and win. This is a time not for judging others, but for having some compassion about what so many folks are going through.
Dave January 09, 2013 at 12:52 PM
Kathleen, please don't misconstrue my point. I agree insurance companies can be tough, but my overall point was that we should not live in a flood plain or barrier island. If you do buy a house in a flood plain, don't come asking for taxpayer bailouts when your house floods. It is inevitable that it will flood. If you do decide to live in these flood-prone areas, it's your responsibility to make sure you have proper insurance. I would love to know the statistics of damage done by Sandy not related to flooding (i.e. wind damage, trees falling on houses, etc.) vs those in low lying areas who were flooded. I imagine that the flood plain homes make up the large majority of the damaged homes.

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