PORT RICHEY — Anna and Joe Trapani never suspected anything amiss in their Regency Park home until one morning last month.
She woke up, walked into the kitchen — and splash.
"I sloshed in water," said Anna, 79. "Then when I stepped on one of the tiles, it bubbled up."
Turned out they had hidden leaks originating from their air conditioning drain line and from their washing machine, causing a film of water to coat a section of the kitchen floor. Parts of their kitchen would need to be torn apart, cleaned up and rebuilt — work that would total well over $30,000.
That was the first bad surprise. The second one came almost three weeks later, after the initial work had been done.
Citizens Property Insurance wasn't going to pay the bill.
The insurer cited a relatively new policy exclusion that said it would not cover losses due to "constant or repeated seepage or leakage of water or steam" occurring over a period of 14 or more days "whether hidden or not."
The Trapanis couldn't believe it. They'd never seen any signs of a problem.
"How do you know if you've had a leak for 14 days?" she said.
The company they hired to do the work, Advanced Restoration, couldn't believe it, either. Nor could the agent who sold them the policy.
"We don't have any way of knowing" how long the water had been leaking, said Jon Hall, owner of Advanced Restoration. "Who's the scientist who proves that?"
"How would they have known it was constant or ongoing when it was within the wall?" said Ron Gagnon, an Allstate representative in Port Richey who sells Citizens policies in Pasco and Hernando counties.
Shortly after the kitchen was flooded, the Trapanis got indications they were covered. Citizens, says Mrs. Trapani, told them to keep their receipts.
The mess wasn't anything they could ignore. For one, Joe, 85, who had pulmonary fibrosis and used an oxygen tank, couldn't risk being around mold.
"I said, 'Get Joe out of there,' " recalled Gagnon. "The Trapanis did what was necessary to secure the property."
The couple stayed in a hotel for a few days while Advanced Restoration did its initial cleanup. And as Hall and his operations manager, Josh Greene, pulled up the tiles and tore up the cabinets, they got to know the gregarious couple, who are about the same age as their grandparents.
"We had a real connection with them," said Hall. "They were just the nicest people."
Just a week after they'd finished the cleanup, the Trapanis got the April 17 notice that their claim had been denied.
Then, a week later, this: Joe Trapani, a retired salesman from New York, fell ill, was diagnosed with renal cancer and sent to hospice.
On May 8, he died.
"This guy was so cool," said Hall, who visited Trapani at the hospice shortly before his death. "It was terrible to see something like this happen."
Dealing with her husband's sudden death, Mrs. Trapani couldn't wrangle over a claim with Citizens.
"I got to the point where I just shut it out," she said.
'Angels' take over
But Hall figured there was one way he could help: His company would rebuild the Trapanis' kitchen — for free.
"It's the right thing to do," he said. "If it was my grandmother, I'd hope somebody would do the same thing for her."
So Hall and Greene have been hunting for donations like tiles and cabinets. They printed out fliers with a short writeup of the Trapanis' story and have talked about it at business networking clubs.
Mrs. Trapani calls them "my angels."
So what does Citizens say?
On Friday, Citizens spokesman John Kuczwanski said the state-run insurer had decided to reopen the case after hearing about Mrs. Trapani's issue from a reporter on Thursday.
"There are always recourses for a policyholder to question a decision by simply providing us additional information," he said.
Kuczwanski said he had not heard about similar cases involving the exclusion cited in Mrs. Trapani's denial. Asked how the couple could have known they had a leak, he said, "That's why we're happy to take a second look here."
Mrs. Trapani said an inspector called her late Friday afternoon. He said he'd be at her house on Tuesday.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.