Mounds of tornado strewn debris are piled behind houses and apartments on Troy Street and Kelly Avenue. Repairs are underway or waiting for insurance settlements in communities throughout the Dayton area one month after the Memorial Day tornadoes tore through many neighborhoods. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
Photo: Ty Greenlees
Photo: Ty Greenlees

Here’s how to get free legal assistance for low-income tornado survivors

A toll-free hotline is available for tornado victims who need legal help securing government benefits, sorting out insurance claims or dealing with shady contractors in the wake of Memorial Day twisters.

The legal hotline, 1-888-534-1432, is available to connect low-income individuals affected by the disaster with local legal aid providers who can assist with:

  • Securing FEMA and other government benefits
  • Life, medical and property insurance claims
  • Home repair contracts and contractors;
  • Replacement of wills and other important legal documents lost or destroyed in the disaster
  • Consumer protection issues such as price-gouging and contractor scams
  • Counseling on mortgage-foreclosure problems
  • Counseling on landlord-tenant problems

Callers will need to know the disaster identification, which is FEMA-4447-DR.

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The hotline will be answered weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. An online application for help is available 24 hours a day at www.legalaidline.org. Individuals who qualify for assistance will be matched with Ohio lawyers who have volunteered to provide free, limited legal help.

The service is a partnership between the Ohio State Bar Association, the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation, the Legal Aid of Western Ohio, the Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, the Greater Dayton Volunteer Lawyers Project and Southeastern Ohio Legal Services.

PHOTOS: Tornado outbreak in Miami Valley

Tornado victims should be wary of fraud and common scams in the wake of the severe weather, according to the groups. Common post-disaster fraud practices include phony housing inspectors, fraudulent building contractors, bogus pleas for disaster donations and fake offers of state or federal aid. They urge Ohioans to ask questions, take photos, keep documentation and ask for identification when someone claims to represent a government agency.

MORE: Not all tornado survivors sign up for FEMA assistance

People who sustained property damage in the tornadoes are urged to register with FEMA. They may be eligible for federal and state disaster assistance, including low-interest Small Business Administration loans.

State and federal workers never ask for or accept money, and always carry identification badges with a photograph. There is no fee required to apply for or to receive state or federal disaster assistance, according to the groups offering legal assistance.

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