When property owners receive financial assistance from the Federal Government following a disaster declaration, they may be required to purchase flood insurance coverage. Renters also need to carry flood insurance to protect against losses resulting from floods.
Flood zones are areas identified by FEMA for use in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). These zones indicate how likely an area is to flood. If you live in one of the areas most likely to flood — the A and V zones — you will be required to purchase flood insurance for your home. In addition, the maps provide information about your home’s “Base Flood Elevation.” This measure determines whether or not you may need to elevate your home.
The official flood zone maps can be found on the FEMA website. If you would like to speak to a local expert to examine the maps, contact your local planning, engineering, or public works department.
Reading a Flood Map
The codes on the map can tell you whether an area is likely to flood and how high a home in that area should be elevated to avoid flood damage. A and V zones are both below “Base Flood Elevation” and are likely enough to flood that flood insurance is required. The letters are followed by numbers that show just how likely the area is to flood. The higher the number following the A or V the more likely a property is to flood. (It is better to be in A1 than A30.) B, C, and X zones are considered unlikely to flood because of their elevation, drainage, or levee protection. If you live in a B, C or X zone, you are not required to carry flood insurance, but remember that while you are not required to carry flood insurance on properties located in these zones, any losses you incur that result from a flood can be covered only through the NFIP.
The flood zones can guide your rebuilding. They may determine whether you can rebuild, whether you can get certain kinds of assistance, and whether you will need to elevate your home. Following a disaster, FEMA may revise flood maps. Be sure to reference the most recent flood map and insurance requirements before taking steps to rebuild or repair your home. For more information, visit http://rfcd.pima.gov/dfirm/pdfs/femafaq.pdf.
If your home is at or above the required flood elevation based on a flood zone map or a certified elevation survey, you can immediately begin to repair or rebuild, regardless of how much damage your home received. Low-interest SBA loans are available from FEMA based on the actual cost of repairing or rebuilding a flood-damaged home and personal property, minus any insurance reimbursement.
Current loan limits are:
- Homeowners — Up to $200,000 to repair or rebuild a primary residence to its condition before the disaster.
- Homeowners and renters — Up to $40,000 to repair or replace personal property, such as clothing, furniture, and automobiles.
If your home flooded and you are not at the required flood elevation based on flood zone or a certified elevation survey, your home could fall into one of two categories:
- Minor damage — If the structure sustained flooding, but was not substantially damaged, repairs can be made simply by getting the necessary permits over the counter or online. You will not need a new elevation certificate.
- Substantially damaged — If the structure was substantially damaged (50% or more of the replacement value prior to the flood event), you will be required to elevate the building to the current flood elevation. This is for your own safety. If you carry flood insurance, contact your insurance carrier for information on deductibles and limits.
Do I Need to Elevate My Home?
If a flood damages your property, you may be required by law to bring your home up to community and/or state floodplain management standards. If you have NFIP insurance, and your home has been declared substantially damaged by your community, Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) coverage is provided to cover up to $30,000 of the cost to elevate, flood proof, demolish, or relocate your property. ICC coverage is in addition to the coverage you receive to repair flood damages; however, the total payout on a policy may not exceed $250,000 for residential buildings and $500,000 for non-residential buildings.
For more information please visit www.fema.gov/national-flood-insurance-program-2/ increased-cost-compliance-coverage.
State assistance programs may also be available; see your state’s Resource Guide in Route 4.
Caution: Environmental Issues In addition to flood conditions, you also need to be aware of the environmental problem of toxic soil that may be a result of prolonged flooding. You need to consider how these problems are dealt with in the local building codes or other requirements related to rebuilding or repairing a home.
Building permits are generally issued by the local Building or Planning Department. The permits are based on building codes for your area. Building codes are laws and ordinances detailing minimum safety standards that are required both for your personal safety and for others. Building codes vary from one jurisdiction to another, so you will need to check with your local office to find out the exact procedure for obtaining a building permit.
- Elevation Certificate — Obtained as part of your flood insurance documents or mortgage documents. If you have not received it, you will need to check with a licensed land surveyor. This certificate will help you determine if your current slab elevation meets the Base Flood Elevation for your particular flood zone.
- Cost of Repair Estimates — No guessing here. The repair estimate should be obtained from a licensed general contractor, professional construction estimator, or insurance adjuster.
- Fair Market Value — Acceptable estimates of your home’s market value include a recent appraisal (value of land not included), a copy of your homeowners or flood insurance policy stating the value of the structure, a tax bill, or a comparative market analysis prepared by a licensed real estate broker.
Now that you’ve charted your course by selecting a map and checking in at the FEMA pit stop, its time to find out how your state might help make your journey a successful one.
Both New Jersey and New York have a broad range of comprehensive disaster recovery resources for topping your tank. There are far too many resources to list in this guide, but in this section, we will provide key New Jersey and New York “one-stop” sources for disaster recovery. In Route 4, the State Resource Guides list specific local service providers.
NEW JERSEY (NJ Residents only)
The abbreviated dialing code for free access to health and human services information and referral in New Jersey is 2-1-1. This easy-to-remember and universally recognizable number makes a critical connection between individuals and families seeking services or volunteer opportunities, and the appropriate community-based organizations and government agencies. Up-to-date notifications on recovery resources and government, nonprofit, faith-based, and private providers can also be found on the Web at www.nj211.org. This website is a vital source of information for people and businesses needing assistance in New Jersey.
In addition, the NJ 2-1-1 website provides a comprehensive guide to federal, state and local disaster recovery resources.
New Jersey Counties Eligible for FEMA Individual Assistance
All 21 counties in New Jersey are eligible for Individual Assistance.
New Jersey Emergency Management
The New Jersey Emergency Management Agency, www.state.nj.us/njoem, provides up to-date information on the activities of the New Jersey emergency center. Make this one of your first stops for current information on how New Jersey is responding to the damage left by Hurricane Sandy.
The Housing Resource Center
The abbreviated dialing code for free access to health and human services information and referral in New York is 2-1-1. This is an easy-to-remember and universally recognizable number that makes a critical connection between individuals and families seeking services or volunteer opportunities, and the appropriate community-based organizations and government agencies. Up-to-date notifications on recovery resources and government, nonprofit, faith-based, and private providers can also be found at the following websites listed by region. These are comprehensive sources of information for people and businesses needing assistance in NY.
Hudson Valley 211: Serving Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster and Westchester counties, www.hudson211.org/cms
Long Island 211: Serving Nassau and Suffolk Counties, https://211longisland.communityos.org/cms
New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced a new hotline to help residents and businesses apply for financial help after the storm. The telephone number is 1-855-NYSSANDY (697-7263).
The following counties were declared eligible through FEMA for Individual Assistance: Kings, Nassau, Ulster, Sullivan, Queens, New York, Richmond, Suffolk, Westchester, Orange, Putnam, Bronx and Rockland.
New York Emergency Management
The New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services provides FEMA and state Hurricane Sandy Hotline Contacts and numbers at www.dhses.ny.gov/oem/event/sandy/contact.cfm. Make this one of your first stops for current information on how New York is responding to the damage left by Hurricane Sandy.
For New York City residents, www.NYC.gov provides detailed information on recovery programs and services including clean-up, emergency housing/shelter, housing repair, health and environmental concerns, and social services. NYC Restore, is a comprehensive effort to connect residents and businesses impacted by Hurricane Sandy with financial, health, environmental, nutritional and residential services, as well as FEMA reimbursement processing. The initiative consists of seven NYC Restoration Centers located in the communities that were hit the hardest, to provide long-term assistance to New Yorkers. More information and Restoration Center locations can be found at www.nyc.gov/html/ misc/html/2012/dasc.html.
The National Flood Insurance Program is managed by FEMA, though the insurance policies are sold by approved insurance companies. These include private-sector insurance companies that offer other types of insurance, such as homeowners, renters and automobile insurance.
If you need or want flood insurance, first check the FEMA website, www.floodsmart.gov, to make sure your community participates in the program. If so, you can ask your insurance company if it offers coverage. Information on FEMA and the NFIP is available throughout this section, but don’t forget to check out the additional information in the FEMA section earlier in this guide.
Many states have “last resort” insurance pools for residents who are unable to secure private-sector coverage. As many companies have discontinued or sharply reduced policy-writing, these last resort pools have become the only available source of insurance for many in areas vulnerable to hurricanes.
New Jersey: Check www.state.nj.us/dobi for information on the availability of alternative insurance pools.
New York: Check www.dfs.ny.gov for information on the availability of alternative insurance pools.
The claims process can be complicated and overwhelming, especially if you have lost important photographs, receipts, and other vital documents in a disaster. In addition, you may have to file a claim with several different companies if you have separate carriers for homeowners, flood, and automobile insurance.
Most states have laws on how you and your insurance company should conduct the process of filing a claim and resolving the claim. Insurers are usually required to make a written settlement offer within 30 days of receiving a claim, provided the customer has submitted satisfactory proof of loss.
Fortunately, FEMA and many state insurance regulators make guidance for the claims process available on their websites. We’ve also organized this section to help you quickly learn about claims-related topics and get answers to your specific questions.
Hurricanes cause a wide variety of damage to homes. One or more of the scenarios below may apply to your situation. These are general scenarios that assume you only have homeowners insurance. Since insurance coverage varies by state and insurance company, be sure to contact your insurance company regarding your specific situation.
Scenario No. 1: During a heavy rainstorm, water leaks through your roof. The roof is damaged, and so is your furniture.
Are you covered? Somewhat. While you might not be reimbursed for roof repairs, because that’s a home-maintenance issue, the water damage to your home is covered. The damage to your furniture is not covered, because rainwater leakage is not one of the “named perils” for which the contents of your house are covered.
Scenario No. 2: My house did not flood, but I have water damage from a storm or hurricane.
Are you covered? Rain entering through wind-damaged windows, doors or a hole in a wall or the roof, resulting in standing water or puddles, is considered windstorm — rather than flood — damage, and is covered by your homeowners policy. The NFIP flood insurance policy only covers damage caused by the general condition of flooding typically caused by storm surge, wave wash, tidal waves, or the overflow of any body of water over normally dry land areas. Buildings that sustain this type of damage usually have a watermark, showing how high the water rose before it subsided.
Scenario No. 3: A nearby lake or river overflows its banks, causing a flash flood in your living room.
Are you covered? No. Flood damage is not covered by homeowners insurance. You must purchase flood insurance from the federal government. You can purchase flood insurance, as long as your community participates in the National Flood Insurance Program.
Scenario No. 4:
A sewer backs up, flooding your basement. Are you covered? Probably not. Some homeowners policies automatically include coverage for sewer and drain backups, but most do not. Special endorsements are available, at added cost, for sewers and drains. Read your policy carefully to find out whether you have the endorsement.
Scenario No. 5: Water seeps from the ground into your basement, damaging your foundation and interior. Are you covered? No. Seepage is considered a maintenance problem, not “sudden and accidental” damage. Seepage is excluded from homeowners insurance coverage.
Scenario No. 6: During a storm, the power from the electric utility is lost and all of the food in your refrigerator is spoiled and must be thrown out.
Can you make a claim? The general answer is no. However, there are a number of exceptions. In some states, food spoilage is covered under your homeowners policy. In addition, if the power loss is due to a break in a power line on or close to your property, you may be covered.
Scenario No. 7: You have a house close to the river or ocean. You have heard that if your house is destroyed by wind, the town’s new building code requires that you rebuild the house on stilts. This will cost $24,000, in addition to the cost of rebuilding your home.
Are you covered for the extra cost? No, but check your policy. The most common homeowners insurance policies exclude costs caused by ordinance or laws regulating the construction of buildings. However, if you purchased a Law and Ordinance endorsement, the extra costs will be covered.
Scenario No. 8: During a storm a tree falls in your backyard and damages your roof. A tree also falls in your front yard, but does not cause damage to your property. Are you covered? Generally, insurance covers clean-up and removal of a fallen tree if it causes damage to your home or property. Most policies will pay for removal of a tree that has fallen on your house, deck furniture, or fence, and some policies will pay for removal of a tree that falls and blocks your driveway. Most likely, you are not covered for the tree that fell in your front yard. Depending on your state, however, the rules may differ. Check with your insurance company, the state department of insurance or a lawyer for more information.