FEMA Flood Maps Threaten Home Values

The federal government has ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to redraw flood maps to reflect what has dubbed “true flood risk” for areas that are routinely subjected …

The federal government has ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to redraw flood maps to reflect what has dubbed “true flood risk” for areas that are routinely subjected to flooding and the restructuring is threatening to devalue many homes in Florida and Texas. The reason for the revamp is to collect higher premiums to cover big payouts that are underwritten by the government through the National Flood Insurance Act and its National Flood Insurance Program. Recent storms that have ravaged the Texas and Florida coasts have called into question the program’s financial viability that may result in premium increases as high as 25% for some homes. For more on this continue reading the following article from National Real Estate Investor.

In Texas, flooding is a part of life. Between the Galveston hurricane of 1900 and Hurricane Ike in 2008, seven major hurricanes and destructive tropical storms have ravished the Texas Gulf Coast. The people of Texas have lived through, and re-built, in the wake of these and many other flooding events.

Congress enacted the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968 to create the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), intended to provide an insurance alternative to help property owners meet the escalating costs of repairing damage to buildings and other property losses. The program insures roughly 5.5 million homes, the majority of which are in Texas and Florida. The NFIP also provides building-and-contents flood insurance for businesses.

Communities participating in the program must adopt and enforce a floodplain management ordinance to reduce flood risks in zones recognized as Special Flood Hazard Areas. In exchange, the federal government will underwrite flood insurance for these high-risk communities. The Flood Disaster Protection Act of 1973 made the purchase of flood insurance mandatory for the protection of property within designated special flood hazard areas. Later, the Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2004 further modified the national flood insurance program to reduce losses to property owners with repetitive claims.

Rates for policies under the national program are in most cases substantially lower than privately available insurance, and are the only coverage available for some high-risk locations. Policy premium rates are depicted on flood insurance rate maps (FIRMs) and the mapping process is managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which oversees the flood insurance program.

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Since 1978, the national flood insurance program has paid more than $38 billion in claims, and in 2012, it insured roughly $1.2 trillion worth of property. In January 2009, mostly as a result of the devastating 2005 hurricane season, the national flood insurance program owed the U.S. Treasury approximately $19.2 billion, with yearly interest payments of more than $730 million. The program’s worrisome financial health brought it under scrutiny during the 2009 re-authorization process, and the Government Accountability Office issued multiple reports on the program.

Congress passed the Biggert Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 to modify the way FEMA manages the national flood insurance program. The act will require the program’s rates to reflect true flood risks, a premium hike that should make the program more financially stable. The 2012 act also calls for FEMA to change the way it implements flood insurance rate maps: Under the act’s provisions, actions such as buying a property, allowing a policy to lapse or purchasing a new policy can trigger rate changes, effectively ending subsidies and grandfathered policies.

Both residential and commercial policy holders currently benefitting from subsidized rates will see a 25 percent yearly rate increase until each rate reflects “true flood risk” according to the new flood insurance maps to be generated by FEMA. New risk tables will not be available until June 2013, making the magnitude of the adjustments uncertain.

The uncertainty about rates presents a hazard to property values in high risk areas. The greatest uncertainty and risk to property values, however, may be updates to flood insurance maps, which FEMA is currently preparing.

Some policy changes, such as ceasing to recognize private levies and revisions to historical flood lines, may change the risk rating of many properties. For properties where the risk severity and availability of subsidies are changing, the overall economic viability of the property may be at risk.

Changes to the national flood insurance program have created economic obsolescence affecting the values both of properties currently in the program and of properties not in the program, which may have their risk rating changed by the flood maps’ pending revision.

While the magnitude of the change in property values may be unknown for several more months, enough information is available to argue that the additional risk these regulatory changes introduce will reduce taxable values of potentially affected properties. Once all the variables are known, affected property owners should undertake an in-depth analysis of the effect of the regulations on property value to determine whether a tax appeal is necessary to obtain a fair property tax assessment.

Sebastian Rodrigano is a principal at the Texas law firm of Popp HutchesonPLLC. The firm devotes its practice to the representation of taxpayers in property tax disputes and is the Texas member of the American Property Tax Counsel (APTC), the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Mr. Rodrigano can be reached at sebastian.rodrigano@property-tax.com.


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