HOLMES BEACH – The city is cracking down on property owners who are using enclosed ground floor rooms for anything other than access, parking or storage in violation of FEMA regulations that prohibit ground floor living areas in some elevated homes.
“A great many of these places are in violation” of Federal Emergency Management Agency rules, Code Enforcement Officer David Forbes said, adding that some owners openly advertise first floor “game rooms” or “family rooms” to vacationers on the Internet.
The city has sent a notice of violation to Brian Wien, owner of 203 69th St., Unit B, Forbes said, adding that Wien is required to remove both the door and the door jamb of the illegal living area, to prevent easy reinstallation of a new door.
City officials are working on a letter to send to property managers listing the dos and don’ts of ground level usage, Forbes said, adding that vacation rentals are “the bulk of the problem.”
Pending approval by the city attorney, the letter will include the following rules:
• Electrical equipment such as switches, outlets and junction boxes must be located above base flood elevation plus one foot.
• A minimum of two flow-through vents are required, enough to provide one square inch of flow for every square foot of floor space.
• No permanent plumbing or waste drains are permitted below base flood elevation plus one foot.
• All construction material below base flood elevation must be water resistant.
• Floors shall not be a finished product, such as tile, laminate or carpet.
• Air conditioning equipment shall be located above base flood elevation plus one foot.
• Air conditioned access areas must be under 299 square feet.
• Any advertisement alluding to ground floor rooms as “bonus” or “game” rooms will be considered prima facie evidence that the room is being used as habitable space.
• Enclosed ground floor rooms are to be used for access, parking or storage only.
Forbes said he also will request that he be allowed to do random inspections after a reasonable compliance period expires.
The 69th Street violation was discovered through a complaint by Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen, who has urged the city to crack down on property owners illegally using their ground floors as living areas.
“It is way past time for the mayor and the city to get serious about flagrant violations of the FEMA rules that could threaten all of our flood insurance,” Peelen wrote in a recent newsletter to constituents. “I hope this will serve as major notice to the investor/owners of the big rental houses and to the real estate and other rental agencies that have been advertising illegal rooms.”
Peelen wrote that she saw “one of these game rooms in a former ‘Kaleta house.’ Indeed, there is an enclosed room with a ping-pong table and a pool table. Our regulations state quite clearly that the ground floor of raised houses can be used only for garage and storage, and may not be ‘livable’ space.”
According to Manatee County Property Appraiser’s Office sales records, Wien purchased Unit B in 2009 from Anna Maria Paradise LLC, an inactive corporation for which he served as manager, according to the Florida Division of Corporations.
Wien also is listed as president of the inactive Anna Maria Paradise Condominium Association, according to the Florida Division of Corporations, which lists Anna Maria Island developer Shawn Kaleta as secretary. Kaleta owned the unit next to Wien’s, 203 69th St., Unit A, in 2010, according to the Manatee County Property Appraiser’s Office.