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Floodplain Issues

When do I need a land surveyor?

There are several situations where you may need the professional services of a land surveyor. A survey is recommended when buying a new property, dividing your existing property, making improvements on your property, adjusting a boundary line, determining the location of your boundary lines,  solving boundary disputes with a neighbor, preparing a letter of map amendment (LOMA) for flood-prone properties, or preparing a site plan for a planning board permit. Good boundaries make good neighbors.

Here are some reasons you may need a surveyor:

  • The land will be bought: Buyers are encouraged to have property surveyed to prevent future disputes about its boundaries, especially when buying a small parcel recently split from a large parcel. If the purchase is being financed, the lender will require a survey to protect its interest in the property.
  • The land will be divided: When a large parcel is divided, whether into two parcels or a multi-lot subdivision, a survey shows the legal boundaries of the new, smaller parcels and additional features such as a road or utility easement into the property.
  • The land will be developed: If you own vacant land and intend to improve it in any way, including building on it, the land might have to be surveyed to establish its boundaries, so that any improvement meets setback requirements. A setback refers to how far off the boundary or lot line the improvement must be. For example, a county might require that homes be built at least 20 feet off the property line (a 20-foot setback).
  • Improvements will be made to previously developed land: If you’re adding structures such as a master suite, garage, deck, or fence to an existing home, a survey will demonstrate that the new additions meet setback requirements.
  • Boundaries are in dispute: Disputes arise over many issues, such as whether a fence is on the wrong side of the property line or a deck doesn’t meet setback requirements. These disputes are settled using a legal survey of the property.
Can you tell me if my house is in a flood zone?

Yes, we would be glad to help. If we have surveyed the property, we can show the flood hazard boundary line on the survey plan we prepared. As an alternative, we can physically locate your house and plot the house location on the flood maps to see if the structure is located in the flood hazard zone or not.

Are the flood maps wrong?

The general lack of detailed topographic mapping throughout this nation means that the floodplain boundaries in most communities cannot be accurately mapped. Since FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) cannot afford to field check all floodplain boundaries, some areas of high ground are shown as floodplain and some low areas are not.

How do I get a LOMA or LOMR-F?

A homeowner may apply for a LOMA or LOMR-F. However, a Site Plan and an Elevation Information Form, Elevation Data Sheet, or Elevation Certificate must accompany each application. These must be prepared, sealed, and certified by a professional land surveyor. The applicant is responsible for paying for this survey information.

What is FEMA going to do about it?

In short, nothing. However, FEMA created the Letter of Map Amendment and Revision (LOMA/R) process to correct or change flood maps [FIRMs and FHBMs] to reflect actual ground surveys or better topographic mapping. Letters are issued by FEMA officially removing lots or portions of lots (by legal description) from the SFHA or changing the boundaries of the SFHA. These are dated and sent to the homeowner applicant and are also filed with the municipality or county within which the property is located. The building site is removed from flood zone AE, AI-30, A, etc and placed in flood zone B, C, or X, which are not part of the SFHA [Special Flood Hazard Area].

When a LOMA/R is issued removing a building site from the SFHA, the mandatory flood insurance purchase requirement is lifted. However, the lender always has the option of requiring flood insurance anyway. For example, the homesite might be just a few inches above BFE, so the lender feels that there is still a threat of flood damage to their “secured property”. Once the flood zone has been changed to B, C, or X, the building qualifies for a PREFERRED RISK POLICY, the least expensive flood insurance available.

Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA): This is used to revise the SFHA boundary based on detailed elevation surveying and/or topographic mapping of natural conditions. If the homesite and the lowest floor of the building (including basement or garage) is above the BFE, FEMA can amend the map to remove the homesite and other land areas from the SFHA. (The map will not actually be physically changed or revised, but the structure or homesite will be certified as being outside the SFHA)

Letter of Map Revision, based on fill (LOMR-F): When FILL dirt is placed on the property to raise the building site above the BFE FEMA can remove the raised area from the boundaries of the SFHA, thus revising the FIRM. This is a man-made change to the floodplain.

How long does it take for my LOMA or LOMR-F to be issued?

It normally takes 6–8 weeks from the time an application is received until a letter of determination is issued. Applications are processed on a first come, first served basis.

Where do I send my LOMA application?

Herrick & Salsbury, Inc., will electronically submit the letter of map amendment application to FEMA through our online account. Upon submittal, we are issued a case number. The online portal will notify us if more information is requested, and will also let us know the status of the review, estimated time of completion, and when the LOMA has been issued. Unfortunately, clients cannot track this information themselves much like you would track a package delivery.

Should I purchase flood insurance while my LOMA or LOMR-F application is pending?

We recommend you consider purchasing flood insurance if you want to close without waiting 6–8 weeks for the LOMA or LOMR-F to be issued. Review this with your loan officer or your insurance agent first.

Savings Tip: Usually (not always), you can get a partial or a complete refund. Please read this quote from the Flood Insurance Manual, Pages CN I and 2:

  1. “INSURANCE NO LONGER REQUIRED BY MORTGAGEE BECAUSE PROPERTY IS NO LONGER LOCATED IN A SPECIAL FLOOD HAZARD AREA- Flood insurance was initially required by the mortgagee or other lender because the property was determined to be in a SFHA. Following a map revision, the property was no longer located in a SFHA. A policy can be cancelled provided that the mortgagee confirms in writing that:
    (1) the insurance was required as part of the mortgage; and
    (2) the mortgagee requirement for flood insurance no longer applies.

Providing no [flood insurance] claim has been paid or is pending, the full premium shall be refunded for the current policy year, and for an additional policy year in those cases where the insured had been required to renew the policy during the period when a revised map was being reprinted. IF A CLAIM HAS BEEN PAID OR IS PENDING, NO REFUND IS ALLOWED.”

Why won’t the lender take my surveyor’s word?

The Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) and Flood Hazard Boundary Maps (FHBM) portray the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA), or what is more commonly known as the gray shaded area, within which the purchase of flood insurance is required as a condition for granting a mortgage from a federally-backed or federally-regulated lending institution. The lender or insurance agent must use the boundaries of the SFHAs shown on the Flood Insurance Rate Maps to determine if mandatory flood insurance applies. The area between the flooding source and the flood hazard boundary is commonly shaded gray. Thus, even though a site survey or an elevation certificate indicates the homesite is above the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) and is technically outside the floodplain if the homesite is within the blue or gray shaded area (the SFHA) on the map, the bank will say flood insurance is required.

I have multiple structures on my property. Do I need insurance on all structures?

Yes, in most cases. Quoting from the FDIC Compliance Manual, dated January 2014 page V-6.4, Multiple structures that secure a loan located in an SFHA generally must each be covered by flood insurance, even though the value of one structure may be sufficient to cover the loan amount. FEMA does permit borrowers to insure nonresidential buildings using one policy with a schedule separately listing each building.”

What do I do if there is no flood elevation shown on the flood map?

If the property is in Flood Zone A, without a letter or number after the “A,” the flood zone is “approximate.” [FEMA calls it an “unnumbered A Zone”] No Base Flood Elevation (BFE) has been determined for the area. However, FEMA can only approve a LOMA/R if a BFE has been established using standard engineering methodology or using the simplified method.

Sometimes another government agency has done a flood study and determined flood elevations, or perhaps the lot is in a fairly recent subdivision for which flood elevations were determined as part of the land development process. Check with your local building inspector or code enforcement officer. However, it is unlikely to find such information in this area.

If there is no existing flood study, one will have to be developed in order to process a LOMA/R, either by the simplified methodology or by a watershed study, which is very costly.

LOMAs or LOMR-Fs in Flood Zone A are usually more complicated. Be prepared!