California family unable to rebuild home after fire because of FEMA regulations

()   A California family whose home burned down claims they cannot rebuild because of a recent FEMA flood regulation requiring them to elevate the house by 20 feet — an expensive fix not covered by their insurance.

Brad and Jennifer Taylor lost their Sacramento home in a fire last August. When the couple hired a contractor to rebuild it, they say they were told that FEMA recently changed the flood zone designation — meaning the family would have to raise the new home at least 20 feet above the ground.

The damage caused by the fire was covered by insurance, but not the cost of elevating the home — which the Taylors say is estimated at $200,000.

“The city won’t let me fix my house because of FEMA regulations,” Jennifer Taylor said in an interview Friday. “This is so wrong.”

“We bought this home in 1998 because FEMA had certified the levees as 100-year flood protection,” Taylor told “Homes are just not being fixed here. … There’s at least a handful of us in this situation.”

Taylor claims she and her husband contacted the agency on multiple occasions and received a letter “explaining that they didn’t have the authority to grant a waiver or exception.” “They said that Congress had to give them the authority,” she said.

The Taylors took their case to Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., who introduced legislation in November that would require FEMA to “create a waiver process to consider on a case-by-case basis allowing these homeowners to rebuild their homes without elevation requirements, while ensuring their flood insurance costs remained the same as their neighbors.”

The bill gained little traction among lawmakers caught up in fiscal crisis negotiations, but Matsui is planning to reintroduce the legislation in the coming weeks, her office said.

“Homeowners who have played by the rules but have had the tragic misfortune of having their homes burn down should have the ability to rebuild with the fabric of their neighborhood intact,” Matsui said in an email statement to

Matsui’s office says FEMA won’t allow cities to issue permits in areas covered by the federal flood insurance program for improvements that exceed 50 percent of the home’s value before the damage.

“The rules have left a number of homeowners, including a small number in Sacramento, unable to rebuild their fire-damaged homes because the cost to repair a home is often more than the actual structure is worth, and far above the 50 percent threshold,” Matsui’s office said last year. “In order to get a permit to rebuild, homeowners are forced to elevate their structure which often is not practical given the cost or community design.”

The lawmaker said Friday that her bill is “common-sense legislation that would allow these homeowners to move forward and rebuild their homes without being forced to pay more for flood insurance.”

A FEMA spokesman said Friday that due to privacy laws, the agency could not discuss the specifics of the Taylor case.

New FEMA building restrictions are being implemented around the country as more communities are being included in the Special Flood Hazard Areas. The provisions apply to the construction of new homes as well as to ones in need of repair after major damage, like in the Taylors’ case.



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