As we, our neighbors, families, and friends, here and in Puerto Rico, are picking up the pieces in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria, the prospect of making claims on our homeowner’s insurance policies can seem overwhelming in the face of the destruction caused by these storms. Much of the damage in our neighborhoods are caused by strong winds, including roof and fence damage. Wind related damages are generally covered by your windstorm insurance policy. The flooding from rainwater and storm surge is excluded from both your general liability and windstorm policies likely because flooding is the most common and costly natural catastrophe.
In Florida’s four southernmost counties — Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward, and Collier — more than 1.3 million homes lie in high-risk flood areas, according to data from the National Flood Insurance Program. Of these 1.3 million homes, more than 861,000 of them do not have flood insurance! As for those homes that are not in designated flood zones, the number of homes having flood insurance are much worse. This is cause for concern because, depending on the source, as little as 20-25% up to more than 50% of flood events occur outside of designated flood zones. Though your home and community may be in a low-risk flood zone, there is never a no-risk flood zone. Remember, even if you live inland, Florida is a peninsula surrounded on three sides by water and is at sea level. Flooding is always a risk.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is the governmental organization which designates flood zones and creates flood maps for most parts of the United States. Whether or not an area is a designated flood zone depends on numerous factors, including elevation, average rainfall, and proximity to waterbodies. Flood zones are organized into three categories: high-risk, moderate-low risk, and undetermined. Although some homeowners within certain flood zones are required to obtain flood insurance in order to obtain a federally insured mortgage, most are not.
Because the purchase of flood insurance policies is often not required by the declarations of covenants of many community associations, many homeowners’ and community associations alike opt not to purchase flood insurance to lower the cost of assessments. In low-risk and moderate-risk flood zone areas, premiums can be several hundred dollars per year for homes, depending on the value of the home and the contents covered under the policy. In high-risk flood zone areas, annual premiums can reach into the thousands.
While it is reported that most Floridians do not have flood insurance coverage, Floridians actually account for a third of all of the flood insurance policies nationwide. Without flood insurance coverage, flood victims must rely on savings and other assets to finance their recovery.
FEMA also administers the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) which was created by the Federal government in 1968 to help control the growing cost of federal disaster relief. The NFIP offers federally secured flood insurance to community associations that adopt and enforce effective floodplain management policies to help reduce future flood losses. You can see if your community participates in the NFIP by visiting NFIP’s Community Status Book online through FEMA’s website. Is your community adequately covered in the event of a flood event? Check with your association’s insurance agent regarding flood insurance to find out more and remember this:
If you do not buy flood insurance for your home and your community association does not have flood insurance for its clubhouse and the like, then one day when you least expect it, you too, could be all wet and up the creek without so much as a paddle!
Jeffrey Rembaum, Esq. of Kaye, Bender, Rembaum attorneys at law, legal practice consists of representation of condominium, homeowner, commercial and mobile home park associations, as well as exclusive country club communities and the developers who build them. He is a regular columnist for The Condo News, a biweekly publication and was inducted into the 2012, 2013 & 2014 Florida Super Lawyers. He can be reached at 561-241-4462.