Friday, November 24, 2017
Tampa Bay Weather

Got Hurricane Irma questions? Here are some answers

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Five days after Hurricane Irma made a mess of the Tampa Bay area, local residents still have questions about the storm's aftermath. Here are some answers.

How can I apply for disaster assistance from the federal government?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency says residents and business owners in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and more than 30 other Florida counties are eligible for disaster assistance for uninsured and underinsured damages resulting from Hurricane Irma. People in those areas may apply for FEMA's Individual Assistance Program, which covers temporary housing, home repairs and other needs not covered by insurance.

Residents can fill out an online questionnaire at disasterassistance.com or call 1 (800) 621-3362. The damage and losses must have occurred as a result of Hurricane Irma, beginning on Sept. 4. After applying, you can expect a call from FEMA to schedule an inspection to determine if you qualify for relief.

What if the storm rendered my rented house or apartment uninhabitable?

If a rented dwelling is damaged or destroyed "so that the enjoyment of the premises is substantially impaired," Florida law allows a tenant to call off the rental agreement and move out. Most leases have a clause that lets tenants exit quickly and smoothly, said Matthew Siegel, who represents landlords at MGFD Law Firm in Clearwater. "If the premises don't exist anymore, the lease can't continue," he said. "You can't be expected to live in the rubble."

What if my rented home is seriously damaged, but livable?

A renter with storm damage and a less-than-helpful landlord can still seek relief. The renter should issue a seven-day notice to the landlord outlining the issues that need attention, like a broken air conditioner or leaking ceiling. If the landlord ignores the notice, the renter is permitted to withhold their rent payment. Ultimately, the parties may negotiate a rent discount, or the tenant can move out altogether, Siegel said.

My neighbor has been running a generator all night long. Isn't there some kind of noise ordinance that forbids that?

In normal circumstances, yes. But many local governments have some type of exception in their noise ordinances for generator use in the aftermath of a major storm, when residents are dealing with widespread power outages. Pinellas County, for example, has an exception for "noises resulting from equipment or operations incidental to the emergency repair of facilities or restoration of services such as public utilities." The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office has fielded about 20 generator noise complaint calls, and deputies have been told to give generator users wide latitude during the local state of emergency that has been in effect during and after Irma, said Sgt. Spencer Gross, a sheriff's spokesman. But that doesn't mean generator users shouldn't be considerate by situating generators as far away from their property line as possible and turning them off at night, if possible.

My fence fell over during the storm. Do I have to haul it to the dump myself?

Some local governments, including the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg, have said they will collect items such as downed fences as part of debris removal. Others, like Hillsborough County's unincorporated areas, are limiting curbside pickup to vegetative storm debris (plants, branches, etc.). Crews will be out to pick up the items next week and in the weeks that follow.

Residents must place the items at the curb in separate piles from brush and yard waste, household appliances, and construction waste. Do not block access to storm water drains, utility boxes or roadways. Some waste disposal facilities will also be open for residents who want to transport waste themselves.

For more information, visit your local government's waste removal department.

City of Tampa: (813) 274-8811.

In unincorporated Hillsborough County, visit hcflgov.net/trash.

In St. Petersburg, call (727) 893-7398.

In unincorporated Pinellas County, call (727) 464-7500.

In Pasco County call (727) 847-2411.

Someone claiming to be an electric company employee came into my garage without my knowledge. Can power company employees enter someone's property without notifying the owner?

No. Utility workers may need to work on personal property, but will never need to enter homes. Both TECO and Duke Energy employees all carry photo identification, and residents should ask workers for a photo ID if there are any questions concerning the person's employment. They can also call the company's customer service line to verify.

What should I do if I lost or found pets during the hurricane?

Many dogs, cats and other household pets ran off as Irma approached. And many are now turning up on the streets and in local animal shelters.

A good place to start is to read or post to the Facebook pages of Lost and Found Pets of Hills-borough or its counterpart in Pinellas County. You can also check the lost and found page of humanesocietytampa.org.

In Hillsborough County, the Pet Resource Center may be able to help at (813) 744-5660. In Pinellas County, contact Animal Services at (727) 582-6200.

If your pet is microchipped, contact the chip company and make sure your contact information is up to date.

If you're looking for your lost pet, you can post an ad with your pet's photo on craigslist or the neighborhood website nextdoor.com. You can also post signs in your neighborhood, and visit local groomers or veterinary offices.

You can also check with your local county emergency shelter or pet rescue group's website or Facebook page for more tips.

Times staff writers Tony Marrero, Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Patty Ryan, Kathryn Varn and Claire McNeill contributed to this report.

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