The Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to efforts by Hurricane María Legal Aid and other legal service providers to reconsider the requests for assistance from property owners in Puerto Rico who have no formal deed or documentation to prove it.
That has been the reason for a high-level of denials for emergency recovery funding by Puerto Ricans who lost all or part of their homes after Hurricane María clobbered the island last September.
The legal group has written a form that those people can complete and submit to FEMA with an appeal request. This document replaces the affidavit and serves as a model for people who have acquired property by inheritance or are living in their properties with the time required by law to become owners, among other cases.
After months of efforts and communications with FEMA in the U.S. mainland, the agency revised the requirements to prove ownership, finally approving the document, the group stated.
“What we did was explain to FEMA what the Puerto Rican law states as ways of being a proprietor, which do not require having a paper stating that the person owns [the property,] and protects eligible individuals who want to request disaster assistance,” said Ariadna Godreau-Aubert, executive director of Puerto Rico Legal Aid and coordinator of Hurricane María Legal Aid.
“This achievement opens the door for more than 48,000 families who own, despite having no formal title, and received refusals, to have access to the assistance to which they are entitled,” she said.
“This is important for those that 10 months after the hurricane remain in conditions of extreme vulnerability and don’t have safe housing because they have not been able to access funds to repair,” the lawyer said.
“This document does not have to be notarized, so we keep opening the doors of access to justice,” said Attorney Mariel Quiñones-Mundo.
“It is a simple instrument, which can be completed by people without legal assistance. We want FEMA to make consistent decisions in accordance with federal regulations to assist individuals and communities affected,” Quiñones-Mundo said, noting the group will be conducting community visits to orient victims and will also offer a seminar.
The form is not an affidavit, so it does not have to be notarized and only requires the signature of the appellant under oath person.
As applicable, it must be accompanied by the documents used to support the request or appeal, such as maintenance receipts or death certificate. Completing the form does not guarantee that the request or appeal will be resolved satisfactorily, the groups said.