In 2012, Hurricane Sandy brought unprecedented flooding to New York City, destroying homes, property, and infrastructure and racking up $19 billion in damages. Residents who had never considered buying NYC flood insurance incurred hefty costs to repair and rebuild. Hurricane Ida’s record rainfall in September 2021 reinforced the alarming and unpredictable dynamics of climate change, causing flooding, damage, and worse.
Flood Awareness & Flood Insurance Is Important
In a city where concerns about extreme flooding were once reasonably low, the past decade has affirmed we have entered a new and critical era of flood awareness. Coastal flooding and rising tides are being studied; stormwater danger zones are being mapped. The New York Mayor’s Office of Climate Resiliency recently released the report “The New Normal: Combating Storm-Related Extreme Weather in New York City.” The bottom line is: It’s crucial that New York City residents understand their current and future flood risk — and consider buying some flood insurance if needed.
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Do You Need NYC Flood Insurance? How To Know Your Risk
So how do you find out what your flood risk is? A great place to start is at Flood Help NY. The site outlines in clear language how New Yorkers can assess their flood risk and insurance requirements — and learn more about what to do.
Assessing the flood risk for your NYC home, whether it is owned or rented, isn’t merely an educational exercise. While it is interesting to look at flood plain maps, it’s essential to do this to understand if you need, or are even required, to have a flood insurance policy.
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What To Know About NYC’s Stormwater Flood Maps
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is in charge of drawing the nation’s flood maps. These maps are used to determine flood risk and set premium standards for flood insurance.
The most recent preliminary flood maps date to 2015, and new, adjusted flood maps are scheduled to be released by FEMA in the coming years. New flood maps for New York City are due in 2022, and new FEMA maps are expected in 2024. These are very likely to result in expanding New York’s flood zones, which means even more New Yorkers will be required to purchase flood insurance.
“The impetus for NYC residents to obtain flood insurance is to provide them with a means to rebuild if their home is subject to flooding. As we saw with Hurricane Ida, where it rains, it can flood. Flooding is the most common and costly natural disaster in the United States. One inch of water can cause $25,000 in damage,” said Michael Foley, the Chief Risk Analyst for FEMA.
More New Yorkers should consider flood insurance regardless of whether they are in a risk zone. According to FEMA, more than 20% of National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) claims happen in areas not designated as high flood risk areas. Also, flood insurance will pay claims regardless of whether or not there is a Presidential Disaster Declaration. Lastly, the average flood insurance claim in 2018 was more than $40,000.
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Anticipating the Cost of Flood Insurance on New Yorkers
On Oct. 1, 2021, FEMA made changes to its risk rating system. The change was made to reduce or only modestly increase premium costs for nearly all policyholders. The new system comes as more and more Americans, and New Yorkers, in particular, are realizing their exposure to flood risk from stormwaters.
The new system prices flood insurance for homes based on a broader range of variables than its decades-old methodology, which didn’t utilize data and information available today.
“The new pricing methodology takes into account many location-specific and structure-specific variables to develop individualized, risk-based premiums. Homeowners, renters, and business owners in areas newly mapped into the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) may qualify for the Newly Mapped Discount. Those interested should speak to their insurance agent to determine if they are eligible,” Foley said.
More Private Insurers Are Offering NYC Flood Insurance
In addition to flood insurance via the NFIP, many private insurers have started offering flood insurance. New York-based brokerages like Coastal Insurance can provide guidance and quotes for private flood insurance. Private insurers like Neptune, Aon Private Flood, and Johnson & Johnson Insurance are some of the top companies for New Yorkers.
“Some private market insurers simplify the definition of flooding so that your coverage is seamless, leaving no space between your home insurance policy’s exclusions and where your flood coverage begins,” said David Clausen, CEO of Coastal Insurance.
Clausen said that coverage for your home’s contents could be provided at replacement cost with private flood insurance.
“That means you won’t have a deduction for depreciation in many cases. Deductibles may be higher with private flood insurance, however, and for some homes, the safety of a FEMA-backed policy may be a better fit. Fortunately, homeowners in many areas now have a choice,” Clausen said.
Why You Should Take Precautions Now
If you do, in fact, need flood insurance, it’s better to get some sooner rather than later. First, locking in flood insurance rates could help cap your exposure to future rate increases. That’s not the same as having existing rates “grandfathered in,” as previously allowed.
“Grandfathering (lower rates) is being phased out,” Foley said. “The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014 limits annual premium increases. This means, for existing policyholders, if their risk-based premium is higher than their current premium, annual premium increases will be capped at 18%. If a policyholder’s premium goes down under the new pricing methodology, their premium will go down immediately at renewal.”
Secondly, it takes 30 days from the time of purchase for flood insurance to take effect (i.e., you can’t find out a big storm is coming and get some coverage in a hurry).
Buyers in Flood-Prone Areas Need Flood Insurance
Most NYC home buyers know that to close on a home loan, banks or lending institutions require purchasing homeowner’s insurance. This is how banks protect their investment against fire and other damage.
However, homeowner’s insurance will not protect against flooding. For example, a burst pipe or overflowing bathtub is likely a part of a general homeowner’s insurance policy, but damage from a storm like Sandy is not. That’s why home buyers who get federally backed mortgages on properties located in high-risk flood areas are required to buy flood insurance.
The best place to start is with your private insurance agent. If you don’t have flood insurance yet, start your search at the FEMA National Flood Insurance Program portal.
Renters Need Flood Insurance, Too
Flood insurance is not just for homeowners and businesses. If you are a renter and live in a high-risk flood zone, you can buy a policy from the NFIP to cover contents up to $100K. Visit the FEMA site for all the essential information, or call the NFIP Help Center at (800) 427-4661. Private insurers will offer coverage for contents over $800K.
The difference between an NFIP renter’s policy and a traditional renter’s insurance policy is that the NFIP policy covers personal property and contents during a flood event. The cost of the policy is based on several factors, including the flood risk of the building in which you live.
Parisa M. Afkhami, an agent for Warburg Realty, affirms that renters need to be proactive, whether they buy flood insurance or add coverage for wind-driven rain or other water damage.
“Every person, whether they’re a homeowner or renter, should have adequate flood insurance. Often renters overlook this or don’t think this is necessary for an apartment building. People still associate flooding with homes for some reason. Flooding often occurs in apartment buildings deriving from many sources, including an upstairs neighbor or terrace, antiquated plumbing, a leaking air conditioner, and even heavy rains,” Afkhami said.
“When this occurs, management companies in most cases assume no responsibility for damages. I have a client who returned from a two-week holiday to a flooded apartment with one-and-a-half inches of water covering the floor. The good news is that rental flood insurance offered by all the major companies is reasonably priced.”
Are You Ready for Flooding?
There is no shortage of information about NYC flood insurance and how to prepare for flooding conditions. In addition to service from private insurers, city, state, and federal agencies are loaded with resources about flood risk and insurance. (Once you have insurance, make sure to create an inventory of your home’s contents and your personal property. Having photos, videos, sales receipts, and the model and serial numbers of items will make the process of filing a claim a bit easier.)
- FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program website offer an overview and specific information about flood maps and flood risk. FEMA has a designated page for questions about flood insurance.
- New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation provides flood insurance information on its website.
- New York City’s FloodHelpNY site offers flood insurance resources and allows NYC homeowners to request a flood resilience audit, which may help reduce your premiums.
How To Find Out if You Live in a Hurricane Evacuation Zone
To find out if you live in a hurricane evacuation zone, head to New York City’s interactive Hurricane Evacuation Zone Finder and enter your address.
Zones are color-coded and labeled 1 through 6, with Zone 1 being a “red zone” where flooding is most likely to occur. The site also provides information on the closest evacuation center, including the distance and time you will need to plan to get to safe ground.
The city recommends sheltering with friends or family located out of the most dangerous zones. However, details about evacuation centers are provided, including the capacity, services, and handicap accessibility.
What To Do if Your Apartment Starts To Flood
Up-to-the-minute information is critical for dealing with a flooding emergency. If you live in New York City, take a moment right now and register for any one of these official and free emergency communications programs.
- Register for the free Notify NYC mobile application to get emergency notifications on your phone
- Bookmark this site: NYC.gov/notifynyc
- Follow @NotifyNYC on Twitter
- Note 311’s numbers for Video Relay Service (212-639-9675) or TTY (212-504-4115) if relevant
Other preparations include assembling a “Go Bag” with a change of clothes, medicines, and anything else critical to your immediate needs. It can also be helpful to have a battery-operated AM/FM radio tuned to a local station to receive emergency alerts and announcements should you lose power. See more tips on getting prepared for and staying safe during a flood here.