State insurance commissioner outlines appeal process for properties in flood zones
Kim Shindle
Apr 19, 2016
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Recent flood zone re-mapping by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has left some properties in a flood zone, which may require them to purchase flood insurance. There is an appeal process that homeowners should be aware of, according to Teresa Miller, Pennsylvania Insurance commissioner.

“FEMA recently re-mapped most of the country using 100-year flood projections, resulting in many homes being designated in flood zones which were never there before, despite many of these homes never or rarely having experienced flooding,” Miller said.

“If a property owner believes his land is improperly included in a Special Flood Hazard Area, commonly known as a flood zone, he may want to appeal this placement,” Miller said. “Mortgages backed by the federal government require homeowners to buy flood insurance. The insurance can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars a year, so an owner with property that has had little or no history of flooding may not want this added expense. In addition, being required to have flood insurance on a property can, in some cases, make it more difficult to sell.”

Realtors® may want to help their clients who may own properties that were recently re-mapped into a flood zone understand the appeal process.

To appeal a home’s placement in a flood zone, the homeowner must show the lowest adjacent grade, or the lowest ground touching the structure, is at or above what is called the Base Flood Elevation. The Base Flood Elevation is the computed elevation to which flood water is anticipated to rise during the base flood used in determining the land is in a Special Flood Hazard Area.

Miller noted that it is the homeowner’s responsibility to provide this information in a letter to FEMA. For this type of appeal, called a Letter of Map Amendment, there is no charge to the consumer. There may, however, be a cost in hiring a professional to determine whether the lowest adjacent grade is above the base flood elevation.

“FEMA will make its decision based on whether it believes the property is in a projected 100-year flood plain,” Miller said. “Whether an appeal can help is determined by whether the property owner can provide information showing the home is not likely to be impacted by this 100-year-flood event.”

Homeowners can get more information on how to appeal a flood zone designation, get a flood map, and find answers to other questions, by going to fema.gov. Homeowners can also call (877) FEMA-MAP (877-336-2627) to get information on appealing a flood zone designation.

The Insurance Department earlier this year created a one-stop shop webpage on flood insurance, which can be accessed by going to insurance.pa.gov, then clicking on the “flood” icon under top pages. This flood insurance webpage includes information on private insurance options for homeowners, as well as information on the federal government run National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

“In many cases, we have found comparable private flood coverage is much less expensive than the NFIP product,” said Miller. “I encourage consumers who need or want flood insurance to use our webpage to shop and find the best coverage for them at the best price.”