Plan to encourage enclosure checks

Nov 2, 2011

The following article was published in the Key West Citzen on November 2, 2011:

Plan to encourage enclosure checks

By Timothy O’Hara

The federal government has given preliminary approval to a plan that Monroe County officials hope will motivate homeowners to have their houses inspected for illegal downstairs enclosures.

The county’s plan is to award property owners a certificate of compliance if they allow code officers to conduct an inspection that yields no first-floor living space, one that has been removed or one that has been legally grandfathered in.

The certificate, which would be listed on county property records, would make the property more marketable, County Growth Management Director Christine Hurley said. Conversely, not having an inspection could hold up a sale as the buyer and seller haggled over whether an enclosure was legal.

The county bounced the idea off the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), whose officials seemed receptive. Now the county must file a formal request for FEMA to approve the plan.

A FEMA mitigation director was supportive of the latest proposal, saying it would “foster a positive real estate market condition and will assure future buyers that the structure is compliant.”

FEMA requires the county to inspect homes for illegal downstairs enclosures when the owners sell it, renew their homeowners insurance or pull a permit to make any improvements.

The voluntary inspection plan would alleviate the county’s responsibility to inspect upon permit-pull.

Requiring the inspection when someone pulls a building permit has led to a proliferation of unpermitted construction, contractors have said.

FEMA bans the structures because of flooding safety issues. Residents complain the government should allow them because they are expensive to remove and valuable as rental property that helps pay the mortgage.

FEMA has rejected most of the county’s attempts to persuade the agency to change its rules to ease the burden on residents and on the county, which must enforce a federal mandate without federal money.

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