Hey — remember flood insurance reform?
For years, Coastal Connection has been following the U.S. Congress' struggle to get a handle on flood insurance policy. Congress passed the Biggert–Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act in 2012, only to reverse course in the face of a public outcry, once that law's big insurance premium hikes started to take effect. The reform of the reform was called the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014, and it scaled back the insurance premium hikes.
But there's a hitch. The original reform plan, which was to increase premiums year by year until the program could pay its own way, is still in effect for second homes. Only primary residences got a break in the 2014 law. That second-home flood insurance premium increase is now starting to happen. On April 1, some homeowners started getting notices that their premiums are going up by $250 this year.
And just to make things more interesting, there's another twist: Even if your house in a flood zone is your primary residence — even, in fact, if it's the only house you own — you might see that $250-per-year rate hike in your bill. In Florida, it appears, FEMA is applying the surcharge to every policy unless the homeowner has supplied documentation proving that the house that's insured is their primary residence.
The News-Press of Fort Myers, Florida, has this report (see: "How to avoid falling victim to flood insurance surcharge," by Melanie Payne). "Ed Nass said he and several of his neighbors recently received letters from FEMA asking them to prove their Cape Coral homes were their primary residences," the paper reports. "Nass said they scrambled to quickly respond, but in his case it was no use. Within two days of getting the letter from FEMA he received a statement from his mortgage company showing the $250 surcharge had been paid."
In theory, homeowners should be getting a notice from FEMA 90 days before the premium hike is applied, informing them of the situation and requesting proof that the insured property is their primary residence. Acceptable documentation includes "a copy of your homestead exemption, your voter's registration card or a signed sworn statement," the News-Press reports. But if you miss the letter from FEMA or you respond too late, you might see the $250 premium hike on your next mortgage statement (banks often hold insurance funds in escrow for mortgaged properties). In theory, however, it's an "easy fix," one insurance agent told the paper — send in the correct documentation, and the $250 should be refunded. But every homeowner will still be charged the $25 hike.