Thursday, May 22, 2014

Vindicatory Celebration

In October, 2011 I wrote about a frustrating issue I had with our mortgage holder:

Our mortgage there has been held by at least four different lenders in seven years. The current lender, CitiMortgage, tried to force us to get floodplain insurance last year. The house is absolutely not in a floodplain. They told me I was going to have to hire a surveyor. Fortunately we had already had the property surveyed and I finally convinced them we didn't need the floodplain insurance. But by then they had already started paying for the insurance to "protect their investment." And they charged us for it. If my parents hadn't needed a place to live I would have told Citi: "The keys are under the mat. Enjoy your waterfront property." But I didn't have that luxury.

I distinctly remember telling my wife that I knew we were being scammed.  I had no way to prove it, and didn’t think I had any recourse, but I was certain what Citi was doing wasn’t legal.  I found out about the scam when we received a notice that Citi had “purchased flood hazard insurance on [our] behalf.”

Over the past weekend I got the mail and found something incredible.  There was a class action lawsuit against Citi and we have been notified that we’re an eligible class.  What that means is that because I had to put up with Citi’s asininity we’ll be compensated. 

It’s satisfying knowing that my instincts were correct and my experience served me true.  See, I had worked for an engineering firm in Lexington way back in 2007 (the year I bought my first real sporty-sport bike) and my job description was “creating and editing DFIRMs.”  DFIRMS are Digital Flood Insurance Rate Maps.  Not only did I smooth out the edges of the floodplain shapefiles and rectify digital floodplains with historic floodmaps, but I also ran a script which created rasters from the digitized stream stations and converted them to the shapefiles that myself and my coworkers edited. 

So when I argued with the Citi customer service rep (whose second or third language was English) on the phone I was the one in the binary equation who had the empowering knowledge.  I looked up the floodplain for our house.  I didn’t need to; I was already certain the house wasn’t in a floodplain.  I’d seen water flowing during a 100 year flood event and it was nowhere close to the house.  Physically the water can’t reach our home from the closest stream.
Red is house, big blue thing is the floodplain.
Land slopes upward from road to house and the basement floor
is probably five feet above the floodplain.
During the worst flood event in my lifetime
that floodplain didn't conform to the map at all.
When Citi told me I had to prove my home wasn’t in the floodplain I was fortunate that we already had a land survey of the property for another reason.  If we hadn’t there’s no telling how much we’d have had to pay an engineer or a surveyor for an elevation certificate.

After I corrected the issue and Citi removed the flood insurance requirement from our account I discovered they had not refunded the money we’d already paid (for two or three months) and I was furious.  Another frustrating call and they told me they wouldn’t refund the money because I actually had flood coverage for those months.  On a house that was not in the floodplain and never had been.

I don’t know what our compensation will be.  And I really don’t care.  It’s really about the principle of the matter and not money.  The impact to us, while not insignificant, wasn’t onerous enough to cause financial ruin.  It was certainly annoying and inconvenient.  Had we been forced to cough up the dough for a survey or elevation certificate in the end we might have been out thousands of dollars as I’m sure many involved in the scam were.

Having grown up near a small community with frequent flood events I vowed at an early age that I would never own a home within the floodplain.  It was satisfying to make that realization and stick with it when we bought our two different homes.  And I’ve been continually cognizant of floodplains when renting and for that matter just in my day-to-day life. 

I know this isn’t like winning the lottery, but it does feel like we won against injustice even if we didn’t even know the fight was going on.  At the very least it has motivated me to look deeper next time my gut instinct tells me something seems fishy.


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