Pasco To Enforce Stilt Home Rules
By KEVIN WIATROWSKI The Tampa Tribune
NEW PORT RICHEY - Coastal residents living in flood zones could face legal action if they added living space to flood-prone lower levels of their homes.
Pasco County Commissioners gave county staffers the go-ahead Tuesday to begin forcing homeowners to meet Federal Emergency Management Agency rules prohibiting people from turning lower levels of raised homes into living areas.
FEMA rules require homeowners to raise their houses above potential flood levels, leaving the lower level for a garage or storage. The ground floors typically are built with walls that will either break away or let floodwaters flow through.
Alterations to those characteristics are often the most visible sign that someone is living on their home's ground floor, county officials said.
Tuesday's action moves about 130 homeowners from the limbo they've been in since 2004 when then-Commissioner Peter Altman tried to get FEMA to loosen its rules on ground-floor living areas.
Altman sought the rule change to help homeowners who bought homes not realizing the ground-floor changes were illegal.
FEMA told the county last year that, after the storms of 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it wouldn't change the rules, which the federal agency sets and the county must enforce.
By enforcing the FEMA rules, Pasco County ensures flood-prone residents get discounts in their insurance rates, now running about 15 percent, Development Review director Cindy Jolly said.
Because the insurance rates apply countywide, coastal residents who flout the rules cause thousands of others to pay higher rates, Jolly said.
A lack of enforcement in Monroe County, which includes the Keys, means every homeowner will have to submit to a home inspection as part of renewing flood insurance, Jolly said.
County officials will enforce the FEMA rules through the county's Construction Board.
Enforcing the rules can be tricky, however. County inspectors can't force homeowners to let them inside their homes, Jolly said.
If access is denied, an inspector still can base a potential citation on alterations that may be visible from the street, such as living space seen through an open door or blocked flood vents, Jolly said.
Commissioner Michael Cox fretted that the 130 cases could be just the tip of the iceberg, presenting the county with a large burden to enforce.
"I would submit there's probably more people in violation than in compliance," Cox said.
"We wouldn't disagree," Jolly said.
Reporter Kevin Wiatrowski can be reached at (813) 948-4201 or email@example.com.