Dealing with the destruction on a daily basis that we at the Jersey Shore have experienced, I want to help others to understand what is needed to rebuild their homes. I will review some of the major questions I have been receiving regarding what needs to be done in what order and with what agency. Many owners are eager to rebuild, but are finding it frustrating and difficult to get answers to their questions in order to determine what the regulations are, what they should be doing, and how long it will take.
One of the first decisions you should make is whether your house needs to be raised above the new Base Flood Elevation (BFE) height. There are a few guidelines to be aware of for this requirement. According to NJ State law, if your house has received substantial damage from the storm and is under the new Base Flood Elevation height, then you need to lift your house to bring it into compliance.
Well that certainly raises a lot of questions! What is ‘substantial damage’ you ask? It is defined as “damaged by flood to the point that repairs will cost 50 percent or more of the building’s tax assessed value”. This is the building portion of the assessment, not the land value. So who determines this percentage of damage? Each town has a Floodplain Management official who can be reached at the building department and he can make the determination. If it is clear that you have substantial damage, you can have your engineer or architect issue a letter to the town stating that you are over the 50 percent and you will be lifting your house. If you are not sure, contact your town and they will send someone out to assess the damage. Your insurance company should have done an assessment as well that you can use to determine this value.
The second part to this issue is what your existing house height is and what the new BFE height is in your area. To determine this you will need a current Flood Elevation Certificate, which a surveyor can provide, to see how high your house is in relation to the new flood map heights. Governor Christie has just declared that NJ has adopted the latest Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maps, so there is no longer a guessing game as to what height the final numbers will be. I recommend hiring an architect that is well versed with these issues as it will simplify everything for you and they can get these questions answered so you are not left wondering how to proceed.
Another item of note is that a Coastal Area Facility Review Act (CAFRA) permit is not required to rebuild or raise your house as long as you stay within the existing footprint. If you want to expand, you may need a CAFRA permit, but this determination can be made by your architect or the town building department.
Insurance is the most confusing issue that homeowners are dealing with currently and the driving factor for the increased building heights. Life safety is certainly an issue, but the catastrophic cost to rebuild is the major issue. The standard homeowner’s policy does not cover any flood related damage. Many people have flood insurance as well, which covers up to $250,000 worth of building damage. If you have purchased the personal property provision then you may have $100,000 of additional coverage for items such as furnishings and clothes. Your policy needs to be assessed on a case by case basis and your insurance agent should guide you through this process. If you have the Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) clause in your policy, then FEMA will grant an additional $30,000 toward lifting your house if it needs to be lifted. This too has many requirements associated with it so you must talk to your insurance company and FEMA about this item. Two important notes here: First is that if you are to receive this ICC grant, then you must have all of the approved paperwork from FEMA, prior to lifting the house, otherwise they will not give you the money. Secondly the $30,000 grant is part of the $250,000 flood insurance policy, so if you have maxed out the policy, you will not get an additional $30,000.
If you are applying for FEMA aid, then you will need to know what your insurance company is covering and also apply for the Small Business Administration (SBA) loan prior to FEMA issuing you money. Depending upon who you talk to at FEMA, you may get different answers regarding what they will cover and how much, but they have a maximum grant of $31,400 (this is different from the lifting grant). They have many requirements as to eligibility, so talk directly to them or go online to www.disasterassistance.gov.
Hire a good architect that can guide you with all of these items and assist along the way. Trying to do this yourself is very confusing and time consuming. Have patience – everyone is in a rush to get back together, but it unfortunately is not a quick process. Knowing the steps to take will help you gain an appreciation for the many items needed to pull this recovery together.
We at PDRdesigns are committed to treating everyone with respect and honesty. We would be honored to help you put your lives and homes back together. Please contact us with any questions you may have or to schedule us to come out to review your project.