Building codes are confusing in the best of times. When you're rebuilding after a disaster, and federal as well as state rules apply, the confusion can get worse. That's what's happening in New Jersey, according to a report on NJ Spotlight (see: "Rebuilding Sandy Survivors May Violate Federal Flood Insurance Rules," by Scott Gurian).
"Federal officials and flood insurance experts are worried that inconsistencies between state and federal construction standards mean some homeowners might rebuild in violation of key flood insurance regulations," NJ Spotlight reports. "That could lead to some nasty surprises after future storms -- or when selling properties. Some people may find they have to pay insurance surcharges or that they are ineligible for insurance at all. Last December, FEMA sent a letter to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, threatening harsh penalties if the inconsistencies aren't fixed. But five months later, the state has yet to make the requested corrections."
When New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) adopted a new version of its "Flood Hazard Area Control Act" after Hurricane Sandy, the regulation was more permissive than federal flood insurance requirements or state building codes. "For instance," reports NJ Spotlight, "the state rules fail to distinguish between building requirements in different types of flood zones; they permit a federally prohibited process known as 'wet flood-proofing' in residential structures in the V Zone; and they allow officials to measure a home's elevation in the V Zone by the height of its first floor rather than by its support beams." Any of those practices could violate building code or flood insurance rules, triggering higher insurance premiums or code enforcement action.
But state DEP spokesman Larry Hajna downplayed the significance of the inconsistency, saying: "We have two sets of rules that apply in New Jersey. Since all buildings in New Jersey's flood hazard areas are subject to both the Flood Hazard Area Control Act rules and the Uniform Construction Code, the highest standard always prevails. So we're confident that people are building to the appropriate elevations."