Highland Lakes

Country Club and Community Association

Appealing Flood Insurance

By Michael Gelfand, Communications Committee

Even the most curmudgeonly, Scrooge-like lakefront property owner in our community would have to admit that owning a house with direct lake access and an unobstructed view of water every day of the year isn’t hard to take. But for all of its pros, there’s one major con that adversely affects many lakefront property owners. No, it’s not the geese. It’s the mandatory—and largely unnecessary—flood insurance that’s hoisted on many lakefront homeowners by mortgage lenders.

From a mortgage lender’s perspective, any structure or property residing within the danger zone of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Special Flood Hazard Area map is in jeopardy of being seriously damaged or destroyed in a 100-year flood, and as it turns out, parts of Highland Lakes, particularly lakefront properties, are on that zone. (A 100-year flood is essentially a flood that statistically has a one percent chance of happening on an annual basis, and if it does, the precipitation and resulting runoff from it would hypothetically cover the identified area of land on FEMA’s map.) To see some frequently asked questions about this and other flood insurance-related topics, check out www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart/pages/faqs.jsp.

FEMA’s flood hazard map is old, you may have a case

Common sense tells you that a lake on top of a mountain can’t flood—water seeks the path of least resistance, which in our case would be over the dam’s weir, down into the spillway, and babbling down into Vernon long before it licked the side of anyone’s home. But FEMA’s flood-zone map doesn’t deal in common sense, it deals only in facts. Basically, if their map—which was drawn up many moons ago—says your home is in the flood zone, you have two choices: pay a couple thousand dollars each year for flood insurance you don’t want, or appeal FEMA’s view of things with a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA).

A LOMA is essentially a request to have FEMA redraw its map based on undeniable proof that the lowest point of your home, typically the basement floor, is higher than the projected flood’s base flood elevation (the height above sea level where the 100-year flood would crest). If yours is, you don’t need flood insurance—unless you want it. And if you don’t need or want it, why have it?

As with appeals to most government agencies, submitting a LOMA is laborious—it takes a long time, requires filling out lots of paperwork, costs a few bucks to tackle (you have to hire a surveyor, but there’s no fee associated for filing the forms), and is a bit frustrating virtually every inch of the way (the forms are on FEMA’s website, see Step 2 below). But if your LOMA submission is successful, the time and money spent tackling it pay immediate dividends with the money you’ll save from not having to pay for flood insurance every year.

How to file your LOMA

If you think you have a case and are interested in pursuing it, here’s how to proceed and what to expect—if you’re successful, as we eventually were, you’ll end up saving yourself some real money:

  1. Hire a qualified, licensed surveyor to perform an elevation survey on your property after you’ve explained what you’re trying to achieve. Once completed, they will issue you an elevation certificate that shows whether the lowest point of your house is above or below FEMA’s base flood elevation guideline (BFE). If it’s above the BFE, you have a case. If it’s below the BFE, take a deep breath and then move on to step 5 below before giving up completely.
  2. Once you have your stamped elevation certificate in hand, start filling out the LOMA forms (go to www.fema.gov/plan/prevent/fhm/fmc_loma.shtm). Before you send in the documents (including the surveyor-stamped survey), make sure you have filled out all the information—and double-check that the surveyor clearly listed the method for the measurement on the elevation certificate (ask them if you aren’t certain). If anything is missing from your submission, FEMA will send everything back to you, and the process for the determination—which takes 90 calendar days—will be suspended until they receive your updated documents.
  3. You will receive notification from FEMA to let you know your paperwork has been received and that your case is in process. They’ll give you information you can theoretically use to monitor your case online, but be forewarned: While I was able to locate my case on the site, there was no accompanying information or meaningful status associated with it, something that drove me to call one of their “map experts” at (877) 336-2627. (You may want to start this whole process by calling them first—while not the friendliest bunch, they are very helpful, and the FEMA website is a confusing maze.)
  4. If no additional information is required for your case, you’ll receive a determination within 90 days—it will include a letter that explains the decision, a Letter of Map Amendment Determination, and any relevant attachments.
  5. If FEMA determines that your home is in the flood zone, you can continue to argue your case, but doing so will likely require more specific information about your property, meaning more money invested, and no guarantee of a successful outcome.
  6. If FEMA determines that your home is not in the flood zone, you’ll need to send a copy of their determination to your mortgage bank’s flood insurance department to initiate the process of revising your loan to reflect that flood insurance is no longer required. Once done, they’ll send you documentation that you’ll forward to the insurance agent responsible for your flood insurance—they’ll have you sign a loss policy release form that they’ll send to the insurer’s underwriting team to be processed, after which you’ll receive a full or partial refund depending on your insurer’s policies and procedures.

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