Fema 50% Rule
Who Is Fema And What Exactly Do They Do?
We've all heard the name FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) in times of response to both natural and man-made disasters. But did you know they have a say in how homes are rebuilt after the damage is done? Since its inception into the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in March of 2003, the primary purpose of FEMA is to organize a response to a United States disaster when the resources of local and state authorities are overwhelmed. The governor of the affected state in which the disaster occurred must formally declare a state of emergency as well as obtaining the same declare from the U.S. President. At that time, FEMA and other federal government agencies may respond to the disaster.
What is The FEMA 50% Rule and am I Affected by It?
FEMA's 50% Rule a.k.a. Substantial Damage Rule is a compilation of specific damage assessment guidlelines in relation to structures built before December 31, 1974 or prior to the start date of which a community begins to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). These guidelines apply to waterfront homes and those in nearby areas who want to stay above water figuratively and financially. But they are also structured for homes damaged by wind, fire, earthquake or man. It is highly advisable that you find out what your home's flood zone is before undergoing any repairs or remodels. In regards to homeowners, FEMA prefers that houses are rebuilt above the flood level to reduce water damage during a major storm. However, these are guidelines. Each county, city or town adopts these rules as they decide. FEMA provides financial incentives in the form of lower insurance rates the more these guidelines are accepted into local laws.

When adopted locally, these regulations restrict a homeowner from spending more than 50% of the value of their home. This does not include the value of the land. If damage to a home which is located in the flood zone would exceed 50%, the home is considered lost and must either be raised above the flood zone or torn down.

If you plan to do any repair, remodel or addition project to your home, be sure to let your planner know that you are located in a flood zone.

Read more about it here.
How Do I Know What the Fema 50% Threshold is for My House?
As with most things in life, there is a safe bet and one that involves praying for the stars and planets to perfectly align. So, let's first look at the rainbow and unicorn method . . .

The Assessed Value Method: If your home remodel/repair project is small or of minor work, you can calculate your home's assessed value by visiting your county appraiser's office or website. Even though the assessed value from the county is established for tax purposes, some building departments may be satisfied with this dollar value, some may not, which is why a call to your building department is recommended.
The Property Appraisal Method: Whether your project is minor or substantial, it is recommended that you obtain a property appraisal. Be sure when speaking with the appraiser, you request a building replacement appraisal. This will not only give a higher value than the county's assessed value, but will increase the 50% threshold for more repairs/remodels that you want to do and accurately satisfy FEMA Rules. This would be the safe bet.
How Do I Keep The Rule From Putting A Monkey Wrench In My Project?
Well, the good news is that, even if your repairs and renovations will cost more than 50% of the home's value, there is a way to still get the job done that you're envisioning. It will take more time and planning, but it is the best way of not having to compromise on what you're trying to achieve with your home project.

Take a close look at all the work that you'd like to do on your home and break it up into phases that increase the value each time. It would be best to consult a professional property appraiser before doing so because they can give you estimates of what your home's value can be, with the improvements that you're planning. So the idea is to split up the project, do the work, increase the value of your home, get a new appraisal, then you'll know what 50% of that new home value will be, so that you can start phase 2. You improve up to that 50% and do the process again, if needed.

So although the work will be spread out over a longer length of time, it will allow you to still get the results you want while remaining compliant with the FEMA 50% Rule.
How Can I Find Out Which Flood Zone My House Is In?
The easiest and best way to find out what flood zone your property lives in would be to go directly to the
FEMA Flood Map Service Center.

To learn more about Floods and Floodplain Management, begin with FEMA's Unit 1 then progress thru Unit 10.

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Here are some other useful links provided by FEMA, in regards to different kinds and levels of disaster assistance.

Register for FEMA Disaster Assistance
Applying for Assistance Under an Emergency Declaration
Individual Disaster Assistance
FEMA Fact Sheet
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