FEMA Enforcing Codes For First Floor Structures In Flood Zones

Building inspectors in Hancock County are cracking down on people who live in raised homes with rest rooms, kitchens or living quarters underneath them.

Joe West purchased this raised home in the Shoreline Park Community about a month ago. He says one of the reasons he bought the house was the bathroom and living space it offered on the ground floor.

"I have a handicapped sister. And if something ever happened to my mother, God willing I hope it never does, that's where I was going to let my sister live," West said.

But county leaders say living areas, bath and laundry rooms underneath a raised home violates FEMA flood plain regulations.

"We have to get into compliance, and one of the big issues is making sure there's nothing below the base flood elevation that's not supposed to be there," building official Mickey Lagasse said.

Lagasse is Hancock County's building official. He says FEMA has threatened to yank flood insurance away from county residents if those in violation don't get rid of the structures below the flood level.

"They want you to tear it out. I don't think it's fair at all to the community or anyone who lives on the water," West said.

Lagasse says only homes built before 1978 will fall under a grandfather clause. He says the county was made aware of the violations after a FEMA team inspected several homes in the area earlier this year.

"One of the big things they found is we have 260 repetitive loss properties in Hancock County. We have one house that's received over $200,000 in insurance claims and we have a large portion that's received over $30,000."

But residents say since flood insurance doesn't cover items destroyed below a raised home, what's the point?

Lagasse says, "Unfortunately, they're still in violation. It's a law. So by us not enforcing it to one or two individuals that say they're never going to take a claim, that could put the entire county in jeopardy."

Violators could be fined up to $250 a day for each violation. Informational meetings will be held with residents in hopes of avoiding any court action.

by Al Showers