Common Legal Issues After a Disaster

Learn about the laws that can help you with housing-related problems, financial issues, and other challenges you may face following a disaster.

Overview

You may face many challenges when trying to recover after a disaster. Some may seem out of your control. But there are laws that can help — and there is free legal assistance available on these issues for low-income Americans who qualify, depending on monthly income and other factors. Check with a legal aid office in your area to apply for free assistance.

Some of these issues arise in the first few weeks or months after a disaster, but many come up later, even after a year.

Housing and Consumer Issues

  • Lease terminations and evictions
  • Home foreclosures
  • Rent subsidy renewals
  • Section 8 vouchers
  • Landlord refusal to make repairs
  • Utility shut-offs
  • Security deposit disputes
  • Insurance claims and disputes
  • Difficulties proving ownership of your home
  • Home repair contractor scams, such as overcharging and failure to complete the work you paid for
  • Price gouging by businesses, including raising prices excessively for repairs, fuel, and essential supplies immediately after a disaster

Income and Financial Issues

  • Replacing lost documents — such as birth certificates, driver’s licenses, and Social Security cards — that may be needed to apply for or restore benefits
  • Public benefit issues or applications, as for food stamps or unemployment
  • Applying for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) financial assistance, and filing appeals if FEMA rejects your application
  • Applying for U.S. Small Business Administration disaster loans
  • Wage theft, including not being paid for all hours of work
  • Bankruptcy, including whether to file for bankruptcy and how to file

Family and Education Issues

  • Access to public education
  • Issues with custody, guardianship, and parenting orders
  • Power of attorney to make decisions for a child or older parent
  • Domestic violence issues, including protective orders

  • Find Legal Aid in your Area

    If you are looking for help with a civil legal problem, use this tool to enter an address or city to find an LSC-funded legal aid organization near you.

  • Introducing: Disaster Legal Services

    The American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division has teamed up with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to create Disaster Legal Services (DLS) — a program designed to help survivors navigate the aftermath of presidentially- declared disasters. The DLS program provides immediate temporary legal assistance to disaster survivors—at no charge.

    Issues where DLS can help include:

    • Insurance Claims
    • New Wills
    • Powers of Attorney
    • Other Legal Papers Lost During the Disaster
    • Problems with Landlords
    • FEMA Appeals
    • Home Repair Contracts and Contractor Fraud

    Learn more through this short video.

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