CAPE CORAL, Fla. — After Hurricane Ian made landfall, FEMA provided more than a billion dollars in financial assistance to victims of the storm. But there are situations where homeowners have to pay for damages out of pocket.
ABC Action News’ Stassi Olmos met a Cape Coral homeowner who was moving to Florida from Minnesota when Hurricane Ian hit; now she fears that she might lose everything.
“We had about six and a half inches of water and that’s where you can see all the paint is starting to bubble and peel …,” Tammy Vetter said as she walked ABC Action News through her first home in Lorraine.
Vetter bought Lorraine Ct. home in February 2022. She and her husband have been slowly transitioning their work and life to the Sunshine State.
Then in August, they discovered what they call their “forever home” listed for sale on the street. They put their first home up for sale and foreclosed on their second home five days before Hurricane Jan hit.
The storm flooded both houses.
Outside her first home lies a pile of furniture and mattresses ruined by floodwaters.
Outside her forever home, there is a bent power pole and downed ropes in front, while a small fish swims in a pool behind. She showed where parts of the interior ceiling cracked under the pressure of the storm, a bathroom window and vent insulation blew out.
Unfortunately, Vetter said she hasn’t been able to set up property insurance on the new home yet, so coverage is minimal.
Vetter showed ABC Action News an email from her broker eight days before the storm, in which he said, “Once the dust settles with the closing, we can look at your materials a little more deeply to make sure it’s what you want. For now, all the creditor’s demands must be satisfied.”
ABC Action News’ Olmos reached out to the broker via email to ask if he was unable to fulfill Vetter’s insurance requests before closing and why? He answered simply, “No.”
Although the first home has both flood and homeowners insurance through Bankers, it does not have personal property insurance.
“And since we just bought this house in February, almost everything is brand new,” Vetter explained.
After the storm, she waited nearly four hours in a FEMA line at a disaster recovery center in Fort Myers only to be told she was not eligible for their assistance.
“We’ve been told by FEMA that they won’t help us because we’re not legal residents here yet,” Vetter said.
She and her family have been cleaning out the two houses themselves, trying to fix what they can, but they can’t afford the deductible between both houses, which Vetter said is nearly $40,000.
“That’s all I could think about,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes. “I’ve been working since I was 13, and everything seems to be going away.”
ABC Action News reached out to FEMA to ask about Vetter’s situation. A spokesperson said that in such complex circumstances, homeowners may need additional documentation and can always appeal.
“They offer a written request to FEMA and look at the file again, and of course then you can look at all the information, like the explanation you just gave — that they’re between houses and making those changes is often just a matter of updating the records ” Bruce Bouch of FEMA explained.
While Vetter’s story seems like a rare series of unfortunate events, many people will be paying out of pocket after Ian for a variety of reasons, including not having flood insurance, high deductibles or vacation homes not covered by FEMA.
“Typically, it’s a house that you would occupy, now that you have tenants that can be in the house, then the services that are available for that as well,” Bouch explained.
AirBnB and VRBO homes are also considered qualifying rentals.
“Hopefully we can find some programs that will help or, you know, maybe FEMA will start to open it up because I know there are a lot of people who are snowbirds and second homes,” Vetter exclaimed. “You’re part of this community whether you’re here for six months or 12 months.”
Experts have advised homeowners and renters to file claims with insurance as well as FEMA, even if they don’t think you qualify.
You can submit online here or contact a disaster recovery center; if the queue is too long – you can go to any of their centers – it doesn’t have to be in your district. You can also download the FEMA app to your smartphone and follow the application process there.
Also, homeowners and renters can apply for loans from the US Small Business Administration, you don’t have to own your own business. Homeowners can receive up to $200,000 to replace or repair their primary residence. Homeowners and renters can receive up to $40,000 for personal property.
You can apply for an SBA loan at a disaster recovery center or online here.