Homeowners grapple with flood insurance woes

When the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 became law, fears rose among property owners in flood-prone areas suddenly faced with escalating insurance premiums.

Following a huge outcry among impacted people, the Homeowner Flood Insurance Act of 2014 delayed certain parts of the law to grandfather and limit certain rate increases.

That relief was to end this month, but another act of Congress has delayed it until December.

However, many folks had already taken steps for relief after being hit with the Biggert-Waters wakeup call.

People such as Tom Rishel, of Muncy, where 40 percent of the borough is in the flood plain, saw his premium rates on a single property suddenly rise in one year from $600 to $9,555.

Under the law, long-term changes were made to the National Flood Insurance Program as a means of improving its financial viability.

Rishel decided to opt out of the program by having his properties covered through private insurance, a much cheaper prospect for the Muncy businessman.

“For most of us, we went to private carriers,” Todd Arthur, of Muncy said. “We are seeing premiums that are significantly less.”

Arthur, a real estate appraiser, said people simply had no choice but to go with private insurance, given the unaffordable premium rates they suddenly faced.

“They had to. Their hand was forced,” he said.

Fran McJunkin, deputy director of mapping and data services for Lycoming County Department of Planning and Community Development, said many people living in flood-prone areas such as Muncy and Jersey Shore got on board with private insurance.

“I think the private insurance is definitely an option,” she said.

And, it should remain a viable option, as long as another flood doesn’t prompt a deluge of claims from property owners.

In the meantime, people with flood-prone properties can take steps to protect their homes or businesses from high water incidents.

“I would do things now to limit damage in the future,” she said.

Arthur noted that many private insurers require flood elevation certificates as proof that a property is out of danger of or less prone to flooding.

McJunkin said flood certificates are certainly something to consider for property owners faced high waters.

If you think your home is above the flood plain, you need a certificate to prove that,” she said. “Elevation certificates are done by surveyors. The lowest spot is what determines whether you are in the flood plain. If you are on the edge of the flood plain it is really worth it.”