They lost homes in Hurricane Maria, but didn’t have deeds. FEMA rejected their claims.

The overriding reason: agency regulations and policies that require recipients of assistance to prove they own and occupy the damaged dwellings.

Feature (Puerto Rico)

Andres Viglucci
Miami Herald
September 20, 2018

Tags: Disaster Recovery, Housing: Title

Organizations mentioned/involved: Fundación Fondo de Acceso a la Justicia


The FEMA requirements, which critics contend the agency has applied more strictly after Maria than previously, quickly ran into the peculiar realities of property ownership in Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory whose legal code is a legacy of centuries of Spanish colonial rule and custom: Unless you have a mortgage or a condo, both of which only a minority of homeowners on the island do, there’s no need for a deed.

Making matters more complicated is a widespread inheritance custom, especially in rural areas, in which bequests of property are not recorded, but informally agreed on by family members, said Adi Martínez-Román, an attorney and executive director of the Access to Justice Fund Foundation, a nonprofit group in the capital of San Juan that underwrites legal services for low-income people.