Insurance delays frustrate Piermont family sickened by mold

Veronica Artrip talks about her frustration with her Veronica Artrip talks about her frustration with her insurance company's response while dealing with mold in her Piermont house as a result of Hurricane Sandy. (Jan. 16, 2013) Photo Credit: Xavier Mascarenas

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When James and Veronica Artrip wake up in their Piermont home each morning, they step onto sunken floorboards covered with musty-smelling blue carpet while coughing and feeling ill -- the results of the 9 feet of water that rushed into their basement and saturated the carpet and first-floor walls at the height of Hurricane Sandy.

Not long after the hurricane, the black mold started creeping across the walls and their "Sandy cough" developed.

"The main floorboards are just sagging," said their grandson, James Hill, 28, a long-distance mover. "Lord knows how much black mold is underneath those. It's not a good living environment when you don't know what's underneath the carpet."

Hill occupies the top floor of the family's quaint, two-story, five-bedroom home on Piermont Avenue. His son, James Robert, just shy of his first birthday, no longer can live in the house.

Contractors have estimated the damage at the Artrips' home to be around $65,000. Electrical and heating systems in the home were damaged beyond repair. A $10,000 emergency check issued by their insurance company, Hartford Insurance, covered those costs.

But the company said it can't give the Artrips any more money to fix their home until adjusters from Simsol Insurance Services finish their assessments of the damage. A woman who answered the phone Wednesday afternoon at Simsol -- based in Niceville, Fla. -- declined to comment.

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"From the very beginning, we've called the insurance company and always they've said, 'This is just unheard of; I'll get right on it,' but we never get a call back," said Veronica Artrip, 67. "I have to keep calling and calling and calling and he keeps saying, 'It's unacceptable.' I was begging for help. I was telling them about the black mold and we were getting sick and that we couldn't live like this."

"We sleep on the first floor, and when I wake up, I don't feel so good," said her husband, James Artrip, 68, a retired bottle factory worker. "I go down every day and spray bleach on the walls, but the mold just keeps growing and growing and growing."

In response to the Artrips' hardships, state Sen. David Carlucci (D-Rockland/Orange) announced his plans Wednesday to introduce legislation that would mandate insurance companies to investigate claims within six days and to notify property owners within 15 days as to whether their claim has been accepted or denied.

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"What we have here with James and Veronica's home is a very serious threat to our health," Carlucci said. "We've got a problem where their house is in disarray, they have a serious problem and now because the insurance companies are dragging their feet, we've got the problem of mold."

The Artrips have spent $460 per year in flood insurance -- for the past 25 years -- on top of $1,000 for homeowner's insurance they've paid each year since they bought the home in 1977.

"They're both retired and they don't have the money they need to put up," Hill said. "It's rough for all of us. We can't afford to fix it ourselves. We can't pay for something, then have a bill that can't be paid."

John Gianos, the Artrips' insurance agent, blamed the slow process on the sheer volume of claims insurance agencies have handled.

"The holdup was that we were so overwhelmed with all these claims," said Gianos, who said he has handled at least 60 Sandy-related cases. "I've been constantly in touch with them. They are in their final stage of getting this thing done and [us] issuing the check."

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Gianos said he did not know how much money the Artrips would receive. He said their flood insurance is linked to the National Flood Insurance Program, run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. A spokesman for FEMA did not immediately return a request for comment.

The Artrips have been unable to receive any type of FEMA aid because they have insurance. For those who had flood insurance before Sandy hit, FEMA can step in only once a homeowner has gotten his insurance claim approved or denied.

"For everybody to be paid who doesn't have insurance and for us who pay insurance to not get paid, it's absurd," Hill said.

The Artrips, with little left to do but wait, are thinking of relocating to a vacation home outside of Sarasota, Fla., until they can get the money they need to fix their home.

"We're just going to pack up and move down to Florida for awhile until this can get settled," James Artrip said. "We can't take it much more. I give up."

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