It’s been more than four months since Hurricane Ian ransacked Florida’s Fort Myers Beach — but many residents are battling with insurance companies, and one family says they’ve been offered just $500 compensation for their house, which was left unlivable.
Over a quarter of all closed insurance claims in decimated Lee County have been denied, leaving tens of thousands of shell-shocked property owners on the brink of financial ruin.
In addition to the 48,344 claims rejected as of Jan. 20, another 30,215 remain in limbo without any signs of forthcoming payment.
Of the 135,086 Lee County residents who’ve actually received payouts, a growing number report having been lowballed with sums that won’t come close to covering a basic rebuild.
“It’s shocking what is happening here,” said Fort Myers Beach Vice Mayor Jim Atterholt. “It’s been a disaster. People are on the edge. They’re desperate.”
The bulk of the denials stem from carriers arguing that damage was caused by flooding, which isn’t covered by homeowner’s insurance.
But residents told The Post that obvious wind damage — which is covered by a basic policy — is being dismissed by carriers.
Unable to live in their dwellings and lacking the insurance funds to fix them, residents are taking shelter anywhere they can — in campers, on couches, and in some cases, tents.
Insurance attorney Monica Schmucker told The Post that Ian devastated her house and left it uninhabitable. She had homeowner’s insurance, which she thought would cover wind damage to her roof and other structural elements.
“They sent me a check for $500,” Schmucker said. “I didn’t even cash it. It’s just insulting.”
Without enough money to repair the home, her family of four lives in a donated camper in a church parking lot. “My daughter just starts crying sometimes,” she said. “She says she just wants a room again. It feels like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.”
Schmucker has been inundated with requests for help from other homeowners who have had their claims denied or been given insufficient payouts.
Laurie Carroll, an executive with a medical device firm, had flood and homeowner’s insurance on the home she shared with her wife.
“We thought we were totally covered,” she said. “The homeowner’s insurance sent us a check for $107.”
Carroll said her flood insurer sent her a payment for half of her policy — a sum that won’t come close to financing a rebuild.
Carroll and her wife have already shelled out $100,000 to stay afloat — $50,000 for a property cleanup and $50,000 for the trailer they’re living in.
“You’d think that if there was ever a situation where you would receive full compensation, this would be it,” she said. “We’re paying a mortgage on a house that doesn’t exist.”
Carroll said a growing number of locals whose claims have been denied are being forced to sell their beloved but battered properties.
“If we can’t rebuild, we might have to take the exit option,” she said. “It’s fight or flight at this point.”
Several residents noted that scattered tent encampments have emerged in Ian’s wake — a mix of renters and homeowners with nowhere else to go.
Atterholt said others live in their badly damaged homes without running water or utilities, preferring to live under a compromised roof rather than on the street.
Tasha Carter, Florida’s insurance consumer advocate, told The Post her office has received a steady stream of homeowner complaints.
Carter said in some situations, flood carriers blame the wind for damage, while the homeowner’s insurance company pins the wreckage on storm surge.
In those cases, both sides refuse payment.
“These are people who thought they were covered completely, and they don’t get anything,” Carter said. “And there is no house, no evidence, to prove either side.”
Atterholt, who also had his claim denied, said he expects a wave of litigation in the coming months and perhaps years.
“The pettiness, the insensitivity, is just shocking,” he said, adding that countless homeowners can barely coax a callback from their carrier, let alone a check.
Florida’s Office of Insurance Regulation told WFTS in December: “OIR expects insurers to do everything possible to respond to the needs of impacted Floridians, restore a sense of normalcy, and facilitate restoration and recovery in impacted communities.
“Consumers are encouraged to work closely with their insurance company and agent if they feel they have been wrongfully denied or unfairly compensated regarding a claim. Consumers should first provide the insurer with damage estimates or additional documentation to support their claim.”