Legislation unlinks enclosure inspections, permits

May 4, 2011

The following article was posted to KeysNet.com on May 4, 2011:

Legislation unlinks enclosure inspections, permits

By Ryan McCarthy

Monroe County homeowners may soon have relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s downstairs-enclosure inspection program, but that doesn’t mean the end of inspections.

The state Senate unanimously approved a bill (580) Monday sponsored by Gainesville-area legislators that eliminates enclosure inspections when property owners apply for a building permit in a different area of the home. The inspections are a local requirement of FEMA’s program to find and remove enclosures below the floodplain or built illegally.

Former Lower Keys resident John November drafted the bill working as a lobbyist for Marathon-based Botsford Builders and backed by the Florida Keys Contractors Association. November is a former employee at Citizens Not Serfs, a nonprofit bent on reforming the inspection program.

“Basically, the building permit part of the inspection program will come to an end and the county will have to begin forming their next proposal to FEMA as an alternative to the current regulatory framework. It’s time to roll up their sleeves and get to work and get public input,” he said.

Many were concerned the bill’s passage could mean FEMA suspending Keys participation in the federally subsidized National Flood Insurance Program. Thousands of Keys homeowners depend on it for affordable insurance.

In addition to enclosure inspections when building permits are issued, the Keys program requires enclosure inspections when a home is sold.

There were 5,687 Keys structures in the National Flood Insurance Program to be inspected for downstairs enclosures. As of February, the county had completed 2,344 of them. Of those, 2,108 were brought into compliance or found not to be illegally built. The rest are going through procedures to bring them up to code.

In a March 29 e-mail to County Commissioner David Rice, FEMA District IV Mitigation Division chief Brad Loar said a new system needs to be put in place. But targeting illegal enclosures is still a priority.

“Monroe County’s status in the National Flood Insurance Program would not be in jeopardy provided an alternative procedure for dealing with illegal lower-level enclosures were to be negotiated, agreed upon and be in place between FEMA and Monroe County prior to July 1, 2012,” Loar wrote. “We will commit to work with Monroe County over the next year to develop a different yet effective procedure.”

County Growth Management Director Christine Hurley said it’s a “struggle” having the inspection program linked to building permits because of the unlicensed contractor work it brings — people don’t apply for permits because they don’t want their homes inspected for enclosures.

“I think this will bring it to the forefront and we’ll all work toward finding an alternative,” she said.

The companion House bill (407) was approved by a 114-2 vote on April 20, meaning the law now requires only Gov. Rick Scott’s signature. If Scott signs it, the legislation is slated to take effect in July 2012.

Find this article here:  http://www.keysnet.com/2011/05/04/335606/legislation-unlinks-enclosure.html