Community Connection-November/December 2012

Your clients expect you to explain these to them

By Sharon Foote, information and education coordinator
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services

When buying a home, business or vacant lot, your clients are also “buying” the rules that apply to that property. Floodplain and water-quality regulations can be confusing. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services can help answer questions.

1. Why does it matter if the property is in a floodplain?

The biggest reason is risk: If the property is in a mapped floodplain, it’s more likely to flood. Even if the property has never flooded before. That risk often has a financial cost, either in flood insurance premiums or paying for uninsured losses.

Another reason is restrictions. The law limits most development in a floodplain, including repairs or renovations.

2. Are construction or renovations allowed in a floodplain?

New construction must meet current floodplain-development regulations. Renovations to existing buildings in the floodplain may be approved or denied depending on:

  • where the property is within the floodplain
  • if the building’s floor is above the required elevation
  • the cost of the renovation compared to the value of the existing structure (substantial improvement rule).

3. Who must have flood insurance? Can anyone buy it?

Flood damage is not covered by standard homeowner’s insurance or renter’s insurance. Only flood insurance covers flood damage.

Flood insurance is usually required for mortgage-holders in the FEMA Floodplain. But flood insurance can be purchased for any property, inside or outside of the regulated floodplain. No one can be denied coverage. But the higher your flood risk, the higher your premiums.

4. Do flood maps change over time, and how does that affect my client’s property?

Floodplain maps are revised because flood risks change and mapping technologies improve. Charlotte-Mecklenburg updates floodplain maps about every 10 years.

Storm Water Services is now in the process of redrawing floodplain maps for the entire county. As maps are updated, some local property owners will learn that their flood risk is higher or lower than they thought. That could change the cost of their flood insurance or how floodplain regulations affect their property.

5. Why should Realtors® understand floodplain risks and rules?

Real estate buyers often focus on what they can see. They expect their agent to alert them to things they can’t see, such as the property’s flood risk.

A national survey by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) finds most floodplain residents were not told of the flood risk when they bought the property.

An annual Charlotte-Mecklenburg survey finds the public believes real estate agents should be a reliable source about a property’s flood risk.

6. What are SWIM buffers?

Buffers are “no-build zones” along creeks, ponds and lakes. The Surface Water Improvement and Management Ordinance (SWIM) requires buffers to help reduce water pollution. In addition to SWIM, three other local water-quality ordinances also have buffer requirements.

Nearly all types of development are illegal in a protected buffer, even putting in a pathway. It’s also illegal to cut down trees or remove plants from the buffer.

7. What is the Post-Construction Ordinance?

This relatively new law to manage storm water applies to commercial and residential development or redevelopment if the lot is 20,000 square feet or larger. Requirements include a pre-development Concept Plan, a Storm Water Management Permit and buffers. The Post-Construction Ordinance is important for anyone who wants to build on a vacant site or redevelop an existing site.

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