Topic: Disaster Relief

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FEMA Applications

If you have been affected by a federally declared disaster, you may qualify for disaster assistance through FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program. You should apply to FEMA as soon after the disaster as possible, and generally, you must apply within 60 days of the disaster.

FEMA can provide money for home repairs; temporary rental assistance; medical, dental and funeral expenses; vehicle repair or replacement; repair or replacement of essential household items; and other essential expenses related to the disaster.

To apply for FEMA assistance, you can:

  • Go to
  • Call 1-800-621-3362 or TTY 1-800-462-7585
  • Apply in person at a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center

FEMA will send you a letter either approving or denying your request. If you are approved, FEMA will send you a letter explaining the purpose of the money. It is important that you only use FEMA money for its intended purpose. For instance, if FEMA’s letter explains that funding is intended for home repair, you should not spend it on rent or food. FEMA may provide you with money for more than one purpose at the same time.

You should save receipts showing how you spent the money for at least three years after you receive it. FEMA may ask you for proof that the money was spent as intended. If you receive money for home repair, but it is not enough to complete all repairs on your home, you should keep your receipts until all repairs are completed so that you can show proof of how you spent the FEMA money to any other organizations assisting you.

If you are unable to use the funding for the intended purpose, you should return it to FEMA. If you spend the money for another purpose, you may be required to repay FEMA in the future.

If FEMA approves you for rental assistance, you will receive two months’ rent upfront, which you may also use to pay a security deposit and your first month’s rent. If you need continuing rental assistance after that, you will need to turn in additional documentation to FEMA, including a copy of your lease and information about your income and expenses.

FEMA Home Repair Assistance

If your home was damaged by a major disaster, you may be eligible for repair assistance from FEMA. FEMA repair assistance is only intended to help you with basic repairs to make it safe to return to your home. FEMA is not intended to assist with all repairs or result in your home returning to its pre-disaster condition.

FEMA also expects that you will soon return to your home and take steps to prevent further damage. For instance, if you have a hole in your roof, FEMA expects that you will place a tarp over it to prevent interior damage to your home.

You may be eligible for home repair assistance if:

  • You or a household member is a U.S. citizen, non‐citizen national, or qualified alien
  • Your home is in a declared disaster area
  • You own your home
  • Your home is uninhabitable or inaccessible due to the disaster
  • Your home is not covered by insurance, or your insurance does not cover your damage
  • You were occupying your home as your primary residence at the time of the disaster

You may NOT be eligible if:

  • You have other, adequate, rent-free housing available
  • You refused assistance from your insurance
  • You were required to maintain flood insurance after a previous disaster, but did not do so

Common issues that can cause FEMA to deny a homeowner’s claim include proving ownership and proving that the disaster has caused so much damage to the home that it is not currently habitable.

If FEMA denies your application for assistance or does not grant you enough money for your needs, you have 60 days to appeal. You can appeal on your own, or Legal Aid NC or another attorney can help you with your appeal.

Additional Resources

Category Name Organization
Disaster Relief FEMA Home Repair Assistance Legal Aid of North Carolina
Disaster Relief FEMA and Flood Insurance Legal Aid of North Carolina
Disaster Relief Duplication of benefits Legal Aid of North Carolina

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If your rental home is destroyed or so badly damaged by a natural disaster that it is not sanitary or safe for you to live in, North Carolina law gives you the right to cancel your lease within 10 days of the date of the damage. You must give the owner or manager written notice of your intent to cancel the lease. You will be required to pay any rent currently due.

Your landlord may also end your lease if the damage is too severe for the landlord to repair. If this happens, your landlord must give you notice as required by your lease. If your lease does not state how much notice is required to end the lease, the amount of time is set by law. For example, on a month-to-month lease, the landlord must provide at least one week’s notice before the end of your lease.

If you continue to live in the home, the landlord is required to make repairs to make the home safe, decent and sanitary. The landlord must do this within a reasonable time. However, the repairs are only legally required if the landlord is aware of the damage. Make sure you inform the landlord about needed repairs right away, and that you keep a record of the date and your conversation. It is best to make your repair requests in writing, which may include handwritten, email, text message, or social media message.

If you have to move out while repairs are being made, you are not required to pay rent for the time that you are not living in the home. You will typically be responsible for your living expenses, including rent elsewhere, while repairs are being made. FEMA may be able to assist you with rental costs while you are displaced.

Your landlord can evict you for failing to pay rent that is due, even if you have been affected by a disaster. If you are unable to stay in the home or unable to pay your rent, you should stay in contact with your landlord to explain your situation and try to reach an agreement.

In general, your landlord is not responsible for damage to your belongings caused by the natural disaster. If you have renter’s insurance for your property, you should file a claim. You should also take pictures of all damaged property.

If you want to move due to damage to your home, or if your landlord continues to charge you rent without completing repairs, we recommend that you contact an attorney to ensure that your rights are protected. You can call the Legal Aid NC helpline to learn if you can get free assistance.

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Scammers and fraudsters often target people after natural disasters. Real contractors or handymen may also accept your money and then fail to do the work. These tips can help you avoid losing money after a disaster.

It is best to…

  • Ask for an official ID from anyone claiming to be from the government, power company or insurance company.
  • Contact your insurance company first if your property has been damaged by a disaster. Some insurance companies require the adjuster’s approval before work can be done.
  • Shop around and compare estimates for any major repairs. Legitimate contractors will also provide written estimates for home repairs.
  • Avoid sharing personal information, such as social security numbers or bank account numbers, with anyone who contacts you first. If someone contacts you claiming to be from a government agency or organization, look up the number for that organization online and call to verify that the person is really an employee.
  • Remember that you should not be asked to pay to file any disaster assistance applications.

When hiring a contractor…

  • Beware of contractors who knock on your door offering services because they noticed your home is damaged or are already working in your area. This is a common tactic of scam artists.
  • FEMA does not approve, endorse, certify, or recommend any contractors, individuals, or firms.
  • Do not hire a contractor who does not have a physical address or refuses to show ID.
  • Use a contractor who is backed by reliable references. The most reputable contractors have liability insurance, workers’ compensation and are bonded.
  • Perform a quick Google search before hiring any contractor. Do they have a website? Have they scammed previous clients? Read any reviews.
  • Get a copy of your contract in writing from the contractor that includes the work to be done and, ideally, a completion date.
  • Check credentials with the North Carolina Licensing Board for General Contractors. Any contractor taking jobs costing $30,000 is required to be licensed in North Carolina.
  • You may wish to request a copy of your contractor’s Certificate of Insurance before they begin work, to ensure that the contractor is legitimate and that you will be covered if the contractor causes any damage to your home.

When making a payment…

  • Be cautious about paying contractors before they begin work. If possible, wait until the work is finished and you are satisfied before paying. Reputable contractors generally do not expect customers to pay the entire price upfront.
  • Pay contractors by credit card if you can, so that you can request a chargeback from your credit card company if they fail to do the work or if the work is unsatisfactory.
  • If you cannot pay by credit card, pay by check or get a written receipt from the contractor – anything to keep a paper trail proving your payments.

If you have been affected by a scam or fraud, you should contact the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office at 1-877-566-7226. Under many circumstances, scams and frauds are a crime. You may wish to contact local law enforcement. You can also contact an attorney to assist you. Call Legal Aid NC to learn if you qualify for free help.

Watch this video for additional information:

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Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Disaster Relief Project helps promote the longevity and professionalism of local long-term recovery work. Legal Aid attorneys assist groups with 501(c)(3) non-profit incorporation, draft of legal documents, and provide general guidance as the groups seek to navigate the disaster relief ecosystem. Our goal is to allow the groups to focus on what they do best: helping the community recover. 

If you are a long-term recovery or community group and would like to learn if we can assist you, call the Legal Aid helpline at 866-219-5262. 

Additional resources

Category Name Organization
Disaster Relief How to Start a 501(c)(3) Nonprofit Organization
in North Carolina
NC Center for Nonprofits
Disaster Relief Legal Compliance Checklist for North Carolina Nonprofits NC Center for Nonprofits
Disaster Relief Toolkit for Building Organizational Resilience NC Center for Nonprofits


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Legal Aid of North Carolina is helping those recovering from the catastrophic flooding that occurred in August 2021 through free disaster recovery legal services and clinics.  

Legal Aid will host clinics in October to assist those affected by Tropical Storm Fred. Storm survivors interested in Legal Aid’s services should call 866-219-5262, extension 2657 to learn more about how Legal Aid may be able to help and schedule an appointment for an upcoming clinic. 

Legal Aid may be able to help with accessing assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Small Business Administration, or the Office of State Budget & Management. Storm survivors may face fraudulent contractors and suppliers, tax issues, home ownership/heir property questions, and the need for wills and advanced directives. Legal Aid can help with this and more. 

In June, the Legal Services Corporation announced that it would award $4.35 million to Legal Aid to support the delivery of legal services to low-income people impacted by Tropical Storm Fred, Hurricane Isaias, Tropical Storm Eta, and other severe weather events the state faced in 2020 and 2021. The new grant funds will be used to continue to provide disaster legal services to multiple areas of the state, including Western North Carolina.  

Those interested in Legal Aid’s disaster recovery services are encouraged to attend an upcoming event. Call 866-219-5262, extension 2657 to schedule an appointment. Walk-ins are welcome, but appointments are preferred. 

The events scheduled in October include: 

Sunday, October 16 from 1-5 p.m. 

Cruso Community Center 

13186 Cruso Rd. 

Canton, NC 28716 

Monday, October 17 from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. 

Fines Creek Library 

190 Fines Creek Rd.

Clyde, NC 28721 

Tuesday, October 18 from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. 

Transylvania County Library

212 S. Gaston St. 

Brevard, NC 28712 

Wednesday, October 19 from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. 

Cruso United Methodist Church 

11653 Cruso Rd. 

Canton, NC 28716  



Legal Aid of North Carolina is a statewide, nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services in civil matters to low-income people in order to ensure equal access to justice and to remove legal barriers to economic opportunity. Legal Aid’s Disaster Relief Project provides legal assistance and education to survivors of natural disasters in North Carolina and supports community economic development and long-term recovery in disaster-impacted communities. Learn more at Follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagramLinkedIn and YouTube

Media Contact 

Hannah Brown, Legal Aid of North Carolina, 704-526-9449, 

Topic: Disaster Relief

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Taking the time to plan ahead can go a long way in helping with disaster recovery. Legal Aid’s Disaster Relief Project recommends following guidance from organizations and government agencies like the American Red Cross, FEMA and NC Emergency Management to prepare for and stay safe during a natural disaster.   

While Legal Aid’s Disaster Relief Project’s main focus is helping North Carolinians through the recovery process after a natural disaster, our experience with disaster recovery has shown us the importance of preparing ahead of time. We’re sharing our own guide to getting ready for disasters on this page. 

What to do before a natural disaster

Make a disaster kit and make a plan

  • Your disaster kit should include non-perishable food, water, medicine and first aid supplies, batteries and flashlights, and anything else you’d need to take care of your family for a few days 
  • Make a plan for what your family will do if disaster strikes: Where will you evacuate? Where will you get your information?  
  • For more on disaster kits and plans, visit preparedness web pages through the American Red Cross and the Legal Aid Disaster Resource Center.

Plan your estate and clear title to your land  

  • Wills, deeds, and powers of attorney are all legal documents that help provide certainty for you and your heirs if a disaster strikes and you end up in an extended recovery process. Legal Aid may be able to help you prepare these documents. More information can be found in the resource section. 
  • If you already have these documents, make sure to review them and update them if necessary, so that your current copies reflect your wishes. 
  • If you own land or think you do, it is important to make sure your title to the land is clear. Legal Aid may be able to help you check the status of your title and address problems. 

Locate important documents, make copies, and store them in a safe place 

  • Having easy access to important documents after a disaster is crucial for accessing necessities, like prescription medications, and applying for disaster aid. 
  • If possible, make copies of important documents and keep them in a waterproof and fireproof location. 
  • Helpful documents to have include: 
    • Birth certificate  
    • License, passport, or other form of Identification 
    • Social Security Card 
    • Deed 
    • Certificate of Title (for automobile vehicles and manufactured homes) 
    • Mortgage Statement 
    • Insurance policies (home owners insurance, flood insurance, health insurance, life insurance, etc)  
    • Tax returns  
    • Court judgments  
    • Power of Attorney and/or Healthcare Power of Attorney  
    • Last Will and Testament and/or Living Will  

Get property or renter’s insurance, and know what your insurance policy covers 

  • Property insurance or renter’s insurance can reimburse you for damage to your home and belongings. 
  • It is important to understand your current insurance and whether you need to adjust your policy before a disaster. A video about property insurance is included in the resources on this page. 
  • If you have questions or concerns about your insurance policy, or if your insurance company denies you coverage, Legal Aid may be able to help. Call the helpline number to learn more about our services and eligibility.

What to do after a disaster 

Take pictures of any damage to your property 

  • Having photographs and a written list of damage you have experienced can help you get help later 

Contact state and federal agencies for aid 

  • FEMA and other organizations may be able to help with immediate needs, like money for short-term housing or repairs.

Contact Legal Aid, if needed, during recovery. We can help with issues including: 

  • Applying for disaster recovery funds and appealing denials of state or federal aid 
  • Homeowner and renters housing rights
  • Contractor fraud 
  • And more

Additional resources

Category Name Organization
Disaster Preparedness How To Prepare for Emergencies Red Cross
Disaster Preparedness Disaster Preparedness Document Checklist Legal Services Corporation
Disaster Preparedness NC Emergency Management North Carolina Emergency Management Division
Disaster Relief Property ownership, heir property, and estate planning Legal Aid of North Carolina
Disaster Relief Property Insurance & Natural Disasters: SHOW ME THE MONEY! (or not) Legal Aid of North Carolina