One of the questions we get quite often from property owners is “What is an Elevation Certificate and why do I need one?” This question usually stems from a letter they received in the mail from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) informing them they will need to obtain flood insurance. This can be confusing to a property owner as they have never needed to obtain flood insurance in the past. Why now?
In 2016, FEMA updated the Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) raising many of the flood zone elevations to include more properties within the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). By doing so, this now included properties within these revised flood zones that had not previously been located within a flood zone.
So what is a FEMA Elevation Certificate (EC) and what is it used for? Per FEMA, “An Elevation Certificate is an administrative tool of the NFIP which is to be used to provide elevation information necessary to ensure compliance with community floodplain management ordinance, to determine the proper insurance premium rate, or support a request of a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA) or a Letter of Map Amendment based on fill (LOMR-F).”
Simply put, the EC is a six-page form on which key elevations within and around a building are added along with pertinent site information and photos of the building. The EC consists of eight sections:
• Section A: Property Information;
• Section B: Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) Information;
• Section C: Building Elevation Information (survey required);
• Section D: Surveyor, Engineer or Architect Certification;
• Section E: Building Elevation Information (survey not required) for Zone AO and Zone A (without BFE);
• Section F: Property Owner (or Owner’s Representative) Certification;
• Section G: Community Information (optional); and two pages for photos of the building.
After review of the FIRM, if it is determined that the client needs an EC, a proper field survey is done to obtain elevations (as outlined on the EC) within and around the building on the North American Vertical Datum of 1988 (NAVD88). The form is filled out and completed by a licensed land surveyor, licensed engineer or a certified architect who is authorized by law to certify elevation information.
After the EC is completed, two key elevations should be reviewed with the property owner before a copy is sent to their insurance agent/company; the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) of the flood zone that the building is shown within on the FIRM map and the lowest adjacent finished grade (LAG) next to the building. If the BFE is higher than the LAG, the difference in elevation will aid the insurance company in determining the cost for flood coverage. A property owner may request that we not continue with the EC if it is determined that the LAG is lower than the BFE. Their rationale being that they will have to pay for flood insurance anyway since the LAG was lower and do not want accrue the cost of the EC as well. We explain to our clients that they should continue with the EC even if the elevations indicate the building will be in the flood zone. The elevations on the EC give the insurance companies a hard number to work with. If an insurance company does not have an EC to aid them in determining the cost of coverage, they will have to assume the worst case scenario and have the property owner pay the premium.
If the LAG elevation is higher than the BFE, then the EC has proven that the building is not located within the flood zone. The property owner can then prepare a LOMA and file it along with the EC and additional supporting documentation (locus deed, record plan, assessor map, copy of flood map, etc.) with FEMA to have the building removed from the flood zone. FEMA will normally complete its review and issue its determination in 60 days. Once the determination is received from FEMA and the building is removed from the flood zone, the client can then provide the insurance company a copy of determination. The property owner is now not required to purchase flood insurance and has documented proof from FEMA.
So to answer the question who needs a FEMA Elevation Certificate (EC) and why: anyone who owns a building/property shown within a mapped flood zone and feels their property may not flood or never previously flooded can potentially have their flood insurance premium adjusted or even have the entire building removed from the flood zone and thus not have to pay flood insurance at all. Here is the link to the Elevation Certificate and instructions on the FEMA website: https: //www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/160?id=1383.
Jason Ellis, PLS, is project manager/associate at Hancock Associates, Danvers, Mass.