Couple paying mortgage, insurance for empty dirt lot where hurricane damaged home once stood

June should have marked a year for Hope Daley and Matthew Dykes in their Golden Gate home.

Instead, they visit a dirt lot where the house once stood on a daily basis: checking mail and feeding stray cats that they inherited when they purchased the house in 2017.

The only thing left standing on the lot are two cat condos covered by a stationary tent.

“The cats think we are the greatest humans ever, for tearing down our house and putting up something for them,” joked Dykes, who runs a video production company with his wife, Daley.

The house was demolished in April after Dykes said he spent months trying to convince their insurance company there was no way to fix damage from Hurricane Irma.

Irma ripped off the rear-portion of their roof leaving standing water in the home and mold.

Dykes said several contractors told them there was no way to repair the home — it had to be demolished and rebuilt.

It was a hard pill to swallow for a couple that had only spent a few months in the home. But they said what was more difficult was the months-long fighting that ensued with Tower Hill insurance company.

The Florida Department of Financial Services has seen more than 9,500 complaints related to Hurricane-Irma insurance claims. Tower Hill Insurance said it could not discuss claim information for privacy reasons.

According to Dykes and Daley, the company wasted around $50,000 of their claim money on attempted repairs before agreeing the home was a total loss. Now that burden will fall on the couple to come up with the money to finish rebuilding.

After they said Tower Hill agreed to pay the full value of their policy, Dykes and Daley had another roadblock: their mortgage company.

Insurance payments are sent first to lenders who then provide funds for repairs in set amounts as work is completed.

Lender, PennyMac, told WINK News by phone that federal rules require homeowners to provide the same documentation and paperwork that was provided to insurance companies.

This process took several weeks, according to Dykes, further delaying their recovery.

They weren’t out of the woods yet. In late May, when PennyMac sent a check made out to both the couple and their contractor there was a problem cashing it.

Chase was not able to cash the check into Daley’s account because a business account who was not a Chase customer was also listed.

After WINK News contacted Chase, the bank agreed to cash the check.

“Our standard policy is that the check must be deposited into the same-name business account listed on the check. Given their circumstances, we made an exception with a signature guarantee and the deposit has cleared. We are working with the customers on how to handle any future checks to avoid this from happening again,” wrote Michael Fusco, with Chase media relations.

PennyMac told WINK News that Dykes and Daley were put in touch with a senior vice president to oversee the rest of their process to make sure it runs smoothly.

“We understand the difficulties our customer faced after such a devastating storm and we empathize with her. We are actively working with her to find an acceptable solution in a situation involving multiple parties,” said Stephen Hagey, the senior vice president of corporate communications for the lender.

Dykes and Daley do not expect their home to be rebuilt before the end of the summer, and are seeking financing options to come up with the money where they will fall short to finish construction.

They estimate they’ve already spend around $20,000 out of pocket juggling rent for temporary housing, storage and other out of pocket recovery costs.

PennyMac recommended that any of their customers who find themselves in similar situations, to utilize the online customer portal in lieu of calling customer service.

The Florida Office of Financial Regulation can also help resolve disputes between consumers and financial institutions. Florida’s Department of Financial Services can help with insurance claim complaints.

If you are facing roadblocks to recovery from Hurricane Irma and need help, contact the WINK News Investigates Tip Line at: 239-344-5050 or [email protected]

For more hurricane related stories, click here.

Reporter:Lauren Sweeney
Writer:WINK News
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