PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — A new FEMA flood insurance rate map is going into effect on August 24. Pinellas County leaders want residents to know their insurance rates could be changing, which may impact the amount homeowners pay for their premium.
Jayne Dunn has lived in her Oldsmar home for 21 years and says she's never had a problem with flooding.
"I've never had anything to do with a flood, never made a claim on my hazard insurance," she explained.
That's why a letter she received in the mail last week took her by surprise. The letter explained that her flood zone was changing from X to AE and that she would require flood insurance since she has a mortgage on her home.
So she called the city of Oldsmar to confirm that her home would be impacted and then started calling around to insurance agents.
"It was very frustrating. I couldn't think. I had to work and try to get this done on my breaks," Dunn explained.
Dunn is one of the hundreds of Pinellas County home and business owners that soon will be forced to fork over more money for flood insurance.
FEMA hasn't changed the FIRM (flood insurance rate map) in 12 years, but now some people currently in non-flood zones could be required by their mortgage companies to add flood insurance. Others who are currently in high-risk flood zones may be moving to a lower-risk zone.
Lisa Foster, Pinellas County's Floodplain Administrator, is hoping to spread the word about the changes, especially since new insurance policies typically have a 30-day waiting period.
"We're encouraging everybody to look up what that change is and talk to their insurance agent about how it's going to impact their insurance rates," Foster elaborated.
Jake Trimble at Brightway Insurance is already fielding some of those calls. He says the change could cost homeowners an extra $1,000 to $3,000 more a year, on average, but many factors can play into that rate. Trimble says if you act fast, you can lock in a rate before your flood zone changes.
"You want to take care of that now to make sure you can lock in at a grandfathered rate," Trimble said.
Insurance agents say you have two other options to save money: Raise your deductible or lower the coverage of the contents inside your home.
"When you think about a flood, you want to make sure you're covering the low-hanging fruit in the house: the couch, furniture, things like that. You don't want to ensure things 10 feet in the air because it's unlikely it'll touch those," Trimble added.
Dunn was able to lock in a lower rate by getting coverage before the new maps take effect, but she worries if her neighbors don't do the same, they'll be stuck with a surprise, potentially triple-digit increase the next time their insurance policy is renewed.
"That's a lot of money to spend on flood insurance when we haven't even had a flood problem. I worry my neighbors won't be able to get a decent flood premium or will end up selling their homes, and it's just going to be devastating for our neighborhood," Dunn added.
You can check out the new map at this link: bit.ly/PinellasPendingMaps. Be sure to plug in your address at the top left of the screen to see if, at all, your flood rate and flood elevation will change.
If the flood zone or BFE for a property changes, the flood insurance rate and the requirement to carry a flood policy may also change. By law, federally regulated or insured mortgage lenders require flood insurance on buildings that are located in areas at high risk of flooding. Standard homeowners, business owners, and renters' insurance policies typically don't cover flood damage; consequently, flood insurance for financial protection is an important consideration for everyone subject to flood risks. Pinellas County leaders also emphasize that flood zone and evacuation zones are not the same things. One is used to determine your insurance rate and risk of flooding. The other is used to determine when you should evacuate during a hurricane or tropical storm.
FEMA will also release a Risk Rating 2.0 plan this upcoming October which will rate homes on their individual flooding risk rather than grouping together the entire surrounding area. Unfortunately, this update may also result in significant increases in premiums.
Below are must-know definitions provided by Pinellas County:
- Flood zones are areas mapped by FEMA for use in the National Flood Insurance Program.
- Each flood zone designation, represented by a letter or letters, tells homeowners what the risk is for flooding at their property over a period of years, regardless of the cause.
- High risk areas, referred to as Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) are shown on the map as zones labeled with the letters A or V.
- By law, all homes in high-risk zones carrying a mortgage must be covered by flood insurance.
- Moderate to low risk areas are labeled with the letters B, C, or X. Areas labeled with the letter D are undetermined risk areas.
- Evacuation zones are based on hurricane storm surge zones determined by the National Hurricane Center using ground elevation and the area’s vulnerability to storm surge from a hurricane.
- The evacuation zones are marked from A through E, plus non-evacuation zones.
- Storm Surge flooding occurs when an abnormal rise of water generated by a storm is pushed toward the shore by strong winds.
- If you are susceptible to storm surge, flood insurance is recommended, even if you are not located in a FEMA flood zone.