Health

Raw Sewage Flooded Their Homes. They’re Still Waiting for Help.

So far, the city has paid out about $1.1 million, with about a quarter of the claims still unresolved, according to the city comptroller’s office, which handles the process. Some residents said they felt pressured to take low offers to cover mounting bills. Basic homeowner and tenants’ insurance in New York State either does not cover, or limits coverage, for sewer backups.

One point of confusion has been the practice that the city follows and argues is their legal responsibility — covering the depreciated value of lost property, not the original value. If someone purchased a couch for $1,000 a decade ago and it was ruined, they may only get $300 from the city today, even if that is not enough to buy a new couch.

Bill Neidhardt, the press secretary for Mayor Bill de Blasio, blamed the comptroller’s office for delayed payments. “The city has accepted responsibility, and we urge the comptroller to make these payments as quickly as possible to make these families whole again,” Mr. Neidhardt said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for Scott M. Stringer, the city comptroller, said the office has worked swiftly.

“We also recognize that the sewage backup aftermath has underscored systemic inequities that cannot be fully alleviated within the legal limitations of the powers of the comptroller’s office,” said Hazel Crampton-Hays, the press secretary for Mr. Stringer, who is running for mayor.

Initially, homeowners had believed the city would fully reimburse them, they said. They had felt that they had been discouraged from hiring lawyers, though city officials had told them that was an option.

Now, 19 people have filed a joint lawsuit, and another 15 families are being represented by pro bono lawyers through the South Ozone Park Sewage Legal Assistance Project, an initiative of the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.

Craig Phemister, the lawyer who is representing the 19 residents who filed suit, said the city’s response has been hurtful. “You put people in a situation where they are out of their home, or can barely stand to be in their home, and then you expect them to fight you on top of it,” he said.

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