Frequently asked questions - Answers

What is a floodplain...and what should a person know about buying property within it?"

Under state law, the floodplain is considered to be the land adjoining lakes and rivers that is covered by the "100-year" or "regional" flood. This flood is considered to be a flood that has a 1 percent chance of occurring in any given year. Floods of this magnitude occurred throughout the state in 1965, 1969, 1997 and 2001, and in various parts of the state in 1972, 1975, 1978, 1979, 1987 and 1993. Using sophisticated engineering and meteorological techniques, it is possible to estimate to an acceptable degree of accuracy the magnitude of such a flood along those rivers where long-term flood records have been kept. Various government agencies conduct these studies, and as they become available, local communities are required by state law to adopt this technical data in their floodplain zoning ordinances.

The natural floodplain is an important part of our water system. It affects storm runoff, water quality, vegetative diversity, wildlife habitat, and aesthetic qualities of our rivers and lakes. Any alteration of the floodplain should be carefully evaluated. A persons intended use should be appropriate to the site selected. The following information about floodplains and local zoning codes deals with restrictions on developing in or near floodplains. However, remember that the least amount of alteration to the natural system is usually the most ecologically sound development decision.

If a person is buying or already owns property on a river shoreline in a community that has adopted floodplain zoning, they should consider the following points: floodway location, flood fringe location, flood protection elevation, flood proofing, and flood insurance.

Diagram indicating the location of a floodplain along a river.

What is the floodway?

The floodway is the land immediately adjoining the river channel that is the natural conduit for flood waters. The floodway must remain open in order to allow flood waters to pass. When the floodway is obstructed by buildings, structures, or debris, flood waters will be dammed up and will flood even greater areas. Large portions of the floodplain store and later release flood waters, which reduce river flood stages. Under statewide floodplain management standards, local communities can designate areas for development in the floodplain, called flood fringe areas, that would cumulatively cause no more than a 1/2-foot (six inches) stage increase in the 100-year flood. A lesser stage increase than 1/2-foot (six inches) would be appropriate where filling/development of proposed flood fringe areas would increase flood damage potential to nearby properties. Many communities have delineated the boundary of the floodway and flood fringe on zoning maps. If the property a person owns or is interested in buying lies within this mapped floodway, they will not be permitted to construct a dwelling or other enclosed structure, place fill material, or obstruct flood flows in any other way. Since this area must be left open to pass flood waters, only open space uses, such as farm land, residential yards or gardens, golf courses, parks, playgrounds, or parking areas, are normally allowed in the floodway.

What is the flood fringe?

The flood fringe is the remainder of the floodplain lying outside of the floodway. This area is generally covered by shallow, slow moving flood waters. Development is normally allowed in the flood fringe provided that residential buildings are placed on fill so that the lowest floor, including the basement, is above the flood protection elevation. In communities that have not delineated separate floodway and flood fringe areas on their zoning map, a permit applicant will likely be asked to provide certain engineering information before they could build a structure in the floodplain. An engineer/surveyor will have to evaluate the proposed building site and furnish local officials with the necessary data to determine the property's flood protection elevation and whether the proposed structure is in the floodway. Professional services and special construction methods can be a substantial expense so a person should always check with the local zoning official before they buy property in a floodplain.

What is the flood protection elevation?

The flood protection elevation refers to an elevation 1 foot above the 100-year flood plus any stage increase due to the designation of flood fringe areas. The elevation of the lowest floor of a dwelling must be at or above the flood protection elevation. Local regulations will also require the top of the access road elevations to be within 2 feet of the flood protection elevation.

What is flood proofing?

Flood proofing includes a variety of construction methods, such as watertight doors, windows, walls, and bulkheads, which can be used to prevent flood waters from entering a structure. This method of flood protection, called "dry" flood proofing is not a sure deterrent to flooding and is used only in very special circumstances where it may not be possible to place the building or accessory structure on fill. Local floodplain regulations restrict dry flood proofing to non-residential structures. New residential basements are prohibited unless the community has been granted a residential basement exemption from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). "Wet" flood proofing, which involves intentional internal flooding of areas constructed of flood resistant materials, may be allowed for minor additions to structures and certain accessory structures that constitute a minimal investment. Furthermore, state and federal floodplain management standards require all flood proofed structures to be designed and certified by a registered architect or engineer.

What is flood insurance?

Flood insurance is an important consideration when buying floodplain property. A person should be aware of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which provides flood insurance coverage for structures and their contents, in communities participating in the NFIP. Under this program, federally insured or regulated institutions must require flood insurance policies on all new loans for structures in mapped 100 year floodplain areas recognized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). A person can find out if a piece of property is located in the floodplain by checking with the local building or zoning officials (ask for the "Flood Insurance Rate Map" or the "Flood Hazard Boundary Map" furnished by FEMA). If a person is considering the purchase or development of floodplain property, their insurance agent can provide information on the cost and availability of flood insurance. It should be noted that flood insurance is available for structures only in communities participating in NFIP. The structure does not have to be located in the mapped floodplain in order to obtain insurance.

Why Do I Have To Purchase Flood Insurance?

My bank is requiring flood insurance in order to finance/refinance a loan for my house/building or it is a requirement for federal disaster aid.

Q. Can I purchase flood insurance?

A. A person can purchase flood insurance if their house/building is in any community (city, township, county) that participates in the National Flood Insurance Program regardless of whether or not they live in a mapped floodplain.

Q. How do I know if my community participates in the National Flood Insurance Program?

A. FEMA maintains a list of communities that currently participate in the National Flood Insurance Program.

Q. Where do I buy it?

A. Flood Insurance can be written by any licensed property and casualty insurance agent

Q. How much will it cost?

A. Flood insurance premiums are rated on various factors including: location of the building within the floodplain; the building's lowest floor elevation (including basement) relative to the 100 year or Base Flood Elevation(BFE) and policy value. The average premium nationwide for a homeowners policy is approximately $300.00. The premium is more expensive for structures located in the 100-year floodplain that pre-date a community's floodplain ordinance and are not properly elevated or protected against flood damage.

Q. My bank is requiring that I purchase flood insurance. I don't agree that my structure is located in a floodplain or I don't believe that its lowest floor is below the Base Flood Elevation(BFE). What can I do to appeal the decision?

A. A lending institution must require that flood insurance be purchased as a condition of any federally insured loan when a building is mapped in the 100 - year floodplain. The property owner may benefit in such a case by having a determination of the elevation of the lowest adjacent grade/lowest floor of the structure in relation to the BFE prepared by a licensed surveyor. The property owner may file a Letter Of Map Amendment (LOMA) or Letter Of Map Revision (LOMR) with FEMA to appeal any floodplain determination. Any information demonstrating the property owner's case will assist with an appeal.

What does increased cost of compliance (ICC) mean?

If your home or business is damaged by a flood, you may be required to meet certain building requirements in your community to reduce future flood damage before you repair or rebuild. Now, to help you cover the costs of meeting those requirements, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) has implemented a new coverage. This coverage, called Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC), is an endorsement to your Standard Flood Insurance Policy. It applies to all new and renewed flood insurance policies effective on and after June 1,1997.

How much coverage is available?
Flood insurance policyholders in high risk areas, also known as special flood hazard areas, can get up to $30,000 to help pay the costs to bring their home or business into compliance with their community's floodplain ordinance.

What options are available to comply?
There are four options a person can take to comply with a community's floodplain management ordinance and help them reduce future flood damage. A person may decide which of these options is best for them.
1. Elevation. This raises a home or business to or above the flood protection elevation level adopted by the community.
2. Relocation. This moves a home or business out of harm's way.
3. Demolition. This tears down and removes flood damaged buildings.
4. Floodproofing. This option is available primarily for non-residential buildings. It involves making a building watertight through a combination of adjustments or additions of features to the building that reduces the potential for flood damage.

When can someone file an ICC claim?
A person may file a claim for the Increased Cost of Compliance coverage in two instances:
1. If a community determines that a person's home or business is damaged by flood to the point that repairs will cost 50 percent or more of the building's pre-damage market value. This is called substantial damage.
2. If a community has a repetitive loss provision in its floodplain management ordinance and determines that a person's home or business was damaged by a flood two times in the past 10 years, where the cost of repairing the flood damage, on the average, equaled or exceeded 25 percent of its market value at the time of each flood, then this is called repetitive damage. Additionally, there must have been flood insurance claim payments for each of the two flood losses.

How can someone file an ICC claim?
A person's ICC claim is adjusted separately from the flood damage claim they file under their Standard Flood Insurance Policy. A person can only file an ICC claim if their community determines that a home or business has been substantially damaged by a flood. This determination is made when a person applies for a building permit to begin repairing their home or business. If a community does determine that a home or business is substantially or repetitively damaged, a local official will explain the floodplain management ordinance provisions that a person will have to meet. A person may also want to consult with the local official before they make the final decision about which of the options to pursue. Once a community has made this determination, a policy holder contacts the insurance company or agent who wrote the flood policy to file and ICC claim. The insurer will assign a claims representative who will help a person process their ICC claim. A person should start getting estimates from contractors to take the necessary steps to elevate, relocate, floodproof, or demolish.

How are ICC claim payments handled? 
A person may be able to receive a partial payment once the claims representative has a copy of the signed contract for the work, a permit from the community to do the work, and the return of a signed ICC Proof of Loss. If the work is completed, local officials will inspect and issue a certificate of occupancy or a confirmation letter. Once a person submits this document to their claims representative, the insurer will pay the final installment or full payment. ICC claims will only be paid on flood damaged homes and businesses, and can only be used to pay for costs of meeting the floodplain management ordinance in that community.

Find more information the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website