June 7, 2010

Assembly Passes Legislation Protecting Disaster Victims from Safe Deposit Box Fees

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver today announced the passage of legislation that would protect victims of disasters from having to pay fees to access their safe deposit boxes.

The bill, A.10918 , prohibits banks from charging customers who have lost access to safe deposit boxes because of a fire or other emergency.

"When someone has suffered such horrible losses, they should not be victimized again by having to pay for what is rightfully theirs," Silver said. "In such circumstances, the possessions people store in safe deposit boxes are critical in helping them put their lives back together. This legislation protects the rights of victims and ensures that they are treated fairly by their banks."

"When disaster strikes, we need to do everything we can to help people recover," said Assembly Banking Committee Chair Darryl Towns (D-Brooklyn). "Subjecting them to fees and charges in order to access their personal belongings simply adds insult to injury. This bill will make sure that survivors of tragedy don't have the added worry of bearing undue financial burdens in addition to the emotional toll these events take on them."

The legislation is a response to the difficulties faced by many victims of a deadly fire on Grand Street on April 11. Many people who had lost their homes and virtually all of their possessions in the fire were told they would have to pay hefty fees to access their safe deposit boxes.

While Silver, along with other elected officials, intervened and was able to persuade most banks to waive these fees, future victims of such disasters should not be put through the trauma and financial hardship of having to pay to recover valuables and crucial identification documents.

The legislation prohibits a bank from charging fees to a customer who cannot access a safe deposit box because of a "common disaster or emergency." It also requires banks and safe deposit companies to report their schedule of fees to the State Superintendent of Banks.