I received an initial substantial damage determination letter in the mail. What are my options?

As required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), the Town has made a preliminary determination that certain buildings on Estero Island have been substantially damaged. When the cost to repair a building in the special flood hazard area exceeds 50 percent of the pre-damaged building value (also known as “FEMA’s 50% Rule”), the building is considered substantially damaged. This determination is based on the damage assessment conducted by the US Army Corps of Engineers following Hurricane Ian and a cost estimate of the work required to restore the building to its pre-damaged condition. 

Due to this preliminary determination, if the property owner would like to keep the existing building, they are required to bring the building into compliance with the current flood damage-resistant provisions of the NFIP and the Florida Building Code (FBC). One significant requirement for newly constructed or substantially damaged buildings is that the lowest floor, as defined in the FBC, must be elevated above the base flood elevation (BFE) as shown on FEMA’s flood insurance rate map (FIRM), plus an additional foot of freeboard. This is known as the required flood protection level (FPL) or BFE + 1’. For more information on how to determine the “lowest floor” of the building, see the question in the Building Services FAQ entitled “What is the “lowest floor” of a building and what is the elevation reference point which must be elevated above the minimum elevation?” 

If you received a substantial damage determination letter, you may wish to contact your insurance agent to understand how raising the elevation of your building can reduce NFIP flood insurance premiums.  If you were covered by a NFIP flood insurance policy during Hurricane Ian, you should contact your insurance provider to discuss the Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) coverage which can help pay for work required to bring your home into compliance. For more information on ICC coverage, see also the FEMA Increased Cost of Compliance Coverage documents in the FEMA Guides section of the Building Services Resource Library.

If you have received a substantial damage determination letter and the lowest floor of the existing building is currently below the required flood protection level on the current FIRM, and you wish to keep the current structure, the lowest floor of the building will be required to be elevated to BFE + 1 foot elevation if the building’s repair costs will exceed the 50% damage threshold. 

A second option is to demolish the existing structure and build a new, elevated structure. There are some situations where buildings are so severely damaged that they cannot be elevated. For these buildings, demolition may be the only feasible alternative.

A third option is to apply for a building permit and detail all the costs which will be required to repair the existing building to its pre-damaged condition at the current lowest floor elevation, if you feel that the labor and materials cost to rebuild your existing building will not exceed 50% of its pre-damaged value. A building permit application must be submitted along with plans and specifications that incorporate code compliance measures.. Note that the FBC requires a permit to be issued prior to beginning work, including but not limited to demolishing, renovating, repairing, or building. Construction activities started prior to receiving an issued building permit covering that scope of work are violations and will result in citations, fines, and/or other legal action.

Note that your required building permit application must include “repair/improvement cost forms,” listing all labor and material costs necessary to restore the building to its pre-damaged condition. These forms will be evaluated by the floodplain coordinator to determine if this preliminary determination will be revised. If this initial determination is revised so that the building is no longer considered substantially damaged (below the 50% rule damage threshold), the revised assessment will replace the determination contained in this letter and will become the official determination for your building. If you already have an issued building permit to demolish or repair your existing building, or build a replacement building, your cost forms have been reviewed, your substantial damage determination has been revised, and you may disregard the substantial damage determination letter. For more information, please visit the Building Services Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section of the Town of Fort Myers Beach website, http://www.fmbgov.com.


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1. Am I in the jurisdiction of the Town of Fort Myers Beach if I have a Fort Myers Beach U.S. postal service address?
2. How long is my permit good for?
3. When is a permit required?
4. What happens if I choose not to obtain the required permits?
5. How do I submit my paperwork for a rebuild and obtain an issued permit?
6. Glass windows and doors--what is the requirement for replacement of windows and doors? Is there a requirement for a certain level of "hurricane" glass?
7. Where can I find the forms to submit a building permit application?
8. What is the current review period for building permits and how do I contact my reviewer?
9. PERMITS GENERAL (category)
10. How do I check the status of an existing building permit?
11. What are the requirements for a site plan?
12. Which permit do I get for a temporary power pole?
13. Where can I send my general building permit questions? (i.e. fence, remodel, single family home, etc.)
14. How do I extend my permit that is issued but about to expire?
15. Do I need a permit to Erect/ Replace a fence?
16. How much do permits cost?
17. How do I pay for my building permit?
18. How can I respond to a rejection letter that I received from one of the reviewers about my building permit application?
19. How can I submit my building permit application paperwork?
20. What happens if my permit expires?
21. What is a Notice of Commencement (NOC), do I need to file one, and how do file my NOC?
22. Should we get this far, what is the anticipated time frame for obtaining a building permit?
23. Are you currently issuing permits for repair of hurricane damaged homes, or will there be a delay before you begin to issue permits?
24. How close can a pool enclosure/pool be to a seawall?
25. Do I need a permit for a deck?
26. Do I need a permit for a Chickee hut?
27. Only drywall, baseboards, cabinets and finished flooring was damaged in our home. Do I need a building permit and repair/improvement cost form to repair these damages?
28. APPRAISALS (category)
29. Given that the appraisal is higher than the tax assessed value, will this trigger a requirement for a second appraisal?
30. Will an AVM "appraisal" be an accepted alternative appraisal method?
31. CONDOS (category)
32. What do I need if I live in a condo and want to replace my windows?
33. The bottom level of our building was severely damaged by the hurricane. Can ground level areas be rebuilt?
34. What is needed for minor Condo Renovations?
35. CODE (category)
36. How close can you get to a non-seawalled natural body of water (Rip Rap)?
37. What are the code requirements for construction in Fort Myers Beach?
38. What are the rules for swimming pool barriers in Florida and what are my responsibilities as a property owner?
39. CONTRACTORS (category)
40. Does the town have a list of registered contractors?
41. Do I need a contractor? What does it mean to be an "owner builder?"
42. Can you recommend an engineer/architect/contractor?
43. How does a contractor get registered with the Town of Fort Myers Beach?
44. DEMOLITION (category)
45. I’ve decided to demolish my building as it was substantially damaged. Will the city be removing my home?
46. How do I acquire a demolition permit?
47. I’ve decided to demolish my home. What is my next step?
48. ELEVATION (category)
49. Where do I find the elevation of my home?
50. Is it possible to elevate my existing building?
51. What is the “lowest floor” of a building and what is the elevation reference point which must be elevated above the minimum elevation?