As Louisiana residents begin rebuilding, property inspections will become a common occurrence. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness remind residents inspections are a necessity, not a luxury.
Safety remains the most important reason for an inspection; however property inspections are necessary to determine eligibility for disaster assistance. Specific steps are required to begin the property inspection process. Registering with FEMA triggers a series of actions leading to an inspection of your property by a FEMA contract inspector.
Once registered, homeowners and renters referred to the housing program should hear from an inspector within 30 days after filing for assistance. The inspectors will schedule an inspection appointment with applicant. If an applicant has evacuated from his/her home and is unable to meet an inspector at the property, arrangements can be made for someone else to accompany the inspector—a friend or relative 18 years of age or older, or a FEMA Authorized Agent.
Inspections are conducted by companies under contract to the government and all FEMA representatives carry photo I.D. Never give information to someone without seeing an official I.D. If in doubt, call the FEMA Helpline. A FEMA inspector simply verifies and documents damages and does not make decisions about any benefits you may receive.
There is no charge for official inspections. Homeowners should show proof of ownership. Homeowners and renters should be able to prove occupancy. If insurance papers are available, residents should show them to the inspector.
The FEMA inspection process should include a complete overview for structural damage of the building. The inspector will look at the foundation, roof, flooring, drywall and ceilings of the structure. The heating, cooling, plumbing and electrical systems will also be reviewed. The inspector will create a record of all disaster related damages. A survey of damaged personal property, clothing and automobiles may also be conducted.
More than one inspection may be required, depending on the type of aid under consideration. The U.S. Small Business Administration may require its own inspection before issuing a low-interest loan. Other organizations such as the American Red Cross may make their own inspections.
Many localities require plans be approved prior to construction. Once reconstruction begins, the owner must use local building codes as a construction guide. As building construction progresses, inspectors will survey the new construction to assure it meets standards. In some cases, building repairs must also be inspected. These continual reviews help assure construction is up to safety codes and in some cases in compliance with any flood zone safety requirements.
Victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas have until Jan. 11, 2006 to register for assistance. The toll-free Helpline registration number is 1-800-621-FEMA (3362), or (TTY) 1-800-462-7585 for the hearing- and speech-impaired. Applicants also can file on the FEMA Web site at www.fema.gov. It is important for the applicant to provide current contact phone numbers so a FEMA inspector can schedule an appointment. Those already registered should update contact information by calling the Helpline.
It is not necessary to wait for an insurance settlement to apply for assistance. However, it is possible an applicant will not receive an inspection until an insurance settlement has been received by FEMA.
Property owners who suspect fraud should contact local law enforcement authorities or the Homeland Security fraud line at 1-800-323-8603.
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