Harvey victims living in FEMA trailer receive eviction notice

BAYTOWN, Texas – A family of six is figuring out what to do after they were told they have to evacuate from their FEMA trailers after they were told they violated the rules and conditions of living in it.

John and Rene Isaacks live on Bayou Boulevard which was hit hard during Hurricane Harvey.

“It’s amazing that the water got that high, it’s amazing that my family didn’t get hurt,” explained Rene.

Clothes and a blanket sit at the top of a tree next to where the Isaacks' family home once stood. It's an ironic reminder of what Harvey took away from them. More than four feet of water entered into their home, which was so damaged they had to tear it down.

While the family did have flood insurance, they’ve had to spend about between $10,000 to $20,000 to remove the home and clean up the property. It has been nine months since the flooding, and they’re finally starting to rebuild.

“This is 34 loads of dirt bringing it up to this year’s standards,” explained John has he looked at the pile of dirt where his house once stood. “Hopefully we’ll pour the concrete sometime next week.”

John said he’s reached out to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for months to remove the electrical wiring to a new location so he could rebuild. Also, he said they’ve had major electrical issues with the trailer.

“We requested over three and a half months ago for it to be moved, we’ve had issues with the air conditioner on this unit since day one it doesn’t’ work right,” explained John.

He said on Sunday they made emergency calls to FEMA after they started having problems.

“We were having electrical issues power, voltage dropped at 93 volts inside the trailer, we could hear the motor on the air conditioner, literally it sounded like a car revving its engine,” explained John.

He said he called his electrician and they rerouted the wires, shortened them to get the voltage to drop.

He then got a letter from the Texas General Land Office stating, “On June 5, 2018, FEMA has found that you are in violation of the rules and conditions of the Revocable License due to the information provided to us by a FEMA field technician. It was brought to our attention that you disconnected the utilities to the unit, rewired electrical lines, and buried some lines underground. FEMA field technician informed you that this is a safety issue and it has the potential to become a major maintenance issue, but you decided to move forward with the process.”

The Isaacks said they’re also upset because the document that was sent to them was addressed to a Mr. Johnson and it said they moved the lines on the June 5 when they said it was moved on the 10th.

John said he was worried for his family's safety and contends no one told him. He said a FEMA representative did come out on Monday.

"I was under the impression he was out there to tell me why things hadn’t been done, he never told me to not actually do the lines,” John said. “We’ve had so many different people from FEMA that one of them said to bury them (the lines). I don’t know which one.”

A representative for the Texas General Land Office said the Issacks’ violated the license agreement they signed with FEMA. The GLO said according to the Manufactured Housing Unit Revocable License and Receipt for Government Property agreement, under “DUTY AS TO USE OF HOUSING UNIT” it stated a tenant of a FEMA temporary housing unit must, “Refrain from making any major repairs, additions, structural alterations, or changes to the unit and any furnishings.”

File: FEMA's Revocable License document

The state said the Isaacks’ signed the document on Jan. 24, 2018. 

According to their documents, FEMA can revoke a license to live in a temporary unit and also charge a penalty fee if, “the household has caused damage to the unit beyond normal wear and tear; or the household has engaged in criminal activity, activities that create serious health and safety risks, or any other unlawful or otherwise illegal activities.” 

“Relocating utilities (water, sewer, and electrical), especially after being told specifically not to do so, is a violation of the agreement and cause for revocation under FEMA’s rules. The licensee signed this agreement and then violated it, which is cause for revocation. FEMA provides for maintenance and repair assistance through the program, but unapproved, unlicensed and unpermitted work being performed on a FEMA MHU is dangerous and not allowed under the program,” explained the GLO. 

“They said we created a hazard, a potential hazard," John said. "They said they were going to send somebody out, an electrician, out that it was a safety issue, we have not had anybody show up to even look to see if it’s safe,” said John. “Their safety issue that they said we created, was not important enough for them to send somebody out and verify it.”

The Notice of Revocation said the family needed to move out by Tuesday, and FEMA will begin assessing a monthly penalty fee. FEMA is expected to perform a move-out inspection on Friday.

“It makes you want to cry, more than anything, you feel helpless,” said John.

The family said the insurance money they received is being used for building their new foundation, their home and septic system. Money is tight. 

“That would be why my stomach hurts at night because I can’t sleep because I don’t’ know," Rene said. "I don’t know what’s going to happen, every time I think I got something figured out, turns out, I don’t."