Losing a home to flood… without water?

As impossible as this may sound… it can happen when… a home that was not previously considered to be in a flood zone is newly mapped into a Special Flood Hazard Area- Zone AE

This situation could occur in areas on Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) that are located in flood zones. The aqua-colored areas on the following map denote flood Zone AE – an area subject to inundation by the 1% Annual Chance Flood event, caused by excess rainfall. Flood insurance is mandatory for structures with federally-backed mortgages; floodplain management standards apply.

Zone X represents areas outside the 1% Annual Chance Floodplain. Flood insurance purchase is not mandatory in any of the areas outside the aqua colored areas.


In 1989, the city’s planning department maps  showed our lot was not in a flood-zone when our contractor applied for a building permit. Twenty-eight years ago, the permit was issued, without a variance, for the zoning-compliant construction of our house. The home site was not in a floodplain, however, a portion of the lot is wetland property.  We originally were offered the option to purchase flood insurance…it was not required… We did so.  Later, the house was refinanced and the lender required flood insurance at, what was then, “Zone C” rates. The yearly premiums never exceeded $430.00.

Now the situation has changed…

At the end of 2016, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)-mandated updates to floodplain maps in Hillsboro, Oregon went into effect. Having attended city-sponsored public hearings prior to the update, we were confident that assurances of likelihood of being “grandfathered in” would protect us from any adverse consequences from the new mappings.

Catastrophic effect on flood insurance rate…

Our annual flood insurance premium arrived a few weeks ago. The rate is frightening… $9,197.00… we were not “grandfathered.” Special Flood Hazard Area- Zone AE is a designation that took away our home. The current FIRM map places our home, and almost twenty others along Glencoe Swale underwater… without a flood.

We believe the value of our home has become worthless because the name “Special Flood Hazard Area” denotes an area in which building permits will no longer be issued. The likelihood of a catastrophic flood event occurring where we live is highly unlikely… however… we have lost the value of a $500,000 home without a natural disaster. If damages were to occur, we cannot obtain adequate repair permits. If we want to sell the home, a buyer’s ability to afford the property is greatly impaired by the name- “Special Flood Hazard Area.”

Because there are other homes in the Glencoe Swale watershed area are in the same predicament, we hope that organizing a group meeting will provide opportunity to devise a plan.

Can homes lost to flood… without water be saved?

That’s waiting to be seen.

The information that follows is my understanding of FEMA processes.  Any correction, addition, or clarification  will be greatly appreciated:

One approach is to hire a certified surveyor for an elevation certificate. If the measurements place a structure above FEMA’s Base Flood Elevation (BFE), then an application for a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA) can be made to establish that a subject building or structure is not located in a SFHA. Issued by FEMA, a LOMA removes a structure – not a property – from a Special Flood Hazard Area.

What if a structure is not eligible for a LOMA ?

The Newly Mapped Procedure could be applied to properties that were previously in Zones B,C,X,D,AR, or A99… but not to properties mapped into the SHFA by the initial Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM.) This designation does not save a home from being in a Special Flood Hazard Area, but it does allow the homeowner to work up to paying exorbitant insurance rates gradually. Sometimes…

Properties that were incorrectly mapped outside of a flood zone at any point in time (according to flood insurance underwriters at our insurance agency) will not have the ability to save the value of a home due to a Congressional ruling in 2016 called the FEMA Clear Communications rule. If the newly mapping procedure reveals that an area has always been a flood zone because old mapping measurement processes were not accurate… all bets are off… the Special Flood Hazard Area- Zone AE remains. And as a result, a home’s value is lost to flood without ever taking on water.

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FEMA Resources

Related post: Update: Losing a home to flood… without water?