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Lower Manhattan flood risk map via Lower Manhattan flood risk map via
Following Hurricane Sandy, many New Yorkers experienced a big surprise. Not only had their homes been flooded, but it turned out their home insurance policies did not cover the damages. While nearly all home insurance plans cover other types of natural disasters—for example, damage from a tornado or lightning strike—flood damage is generally excluded from home insurance policies. Unfortunately, from loss of personal property to foundation damage to chronic mold, floods can and do wreak havoc on homes. Given that there is now strong evidence that climate change is rapidly increasing flood risk nationwide, there is more reason than ever before to take out a flood insurance policy.

When to Purchase Flood Insurance

If you live in a high-rise in Midtown Manhattan, you can probably safely skip flood insurance. But for many New Yorkers, flood insurance is highly advised, if not required.

First, if you live in a FEMA-defined floodplain and have a federally-backed mortgage, you must purchase flood insurance. But even if neither applies to you, you may want to purchase flood insurance. To determine whether you’re at risk, visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website to find out if your home is located in a flood zone. Notably, a 2014 report in The New York Times found that nearly 70,000 buildings in New York sit within the 100-year floodplain, which means that in any given year these buildings have a 1 percent chance of being flooded.
However, it is important to note that simply being in the 100-year floodplain may not be an accurate assessment of your risk. When Hurricane Sandy struck, most affected New York City property owners did not have flood insurance. In part, this reflects the fact that more than half of all buildings impacted, including about half of all residential units flooded by Sandy, were not even located in FEMA’s 100-year floodplain.
Flood-insurance-01 When New York looks like this, you'll be happy to have flood insurance (Image via Pexels)

Why to Purchase Flood Insurance

The reasons to purchase flood insurance are obvious: Repairing flood-related damage can be and usually is extremely costly. FEMA estimates that just one inch of water in a home can cause $25,000 damage. In most cases, flood damage leads to much higher repair costs. A post-Hurricane Sandy studied carried out by the City of New York concluded that the storm costs the city $19 billion in damages. While the city has slowly recovered from Sandy over the past seven years, many homeowners lost their homes and some continue to struggle to access the funds needed to complete repairs.

How to Purchase Flood Insurance

If you want or need to take out a flood policy, the process is similar to purchasing any other types of home insurance. The difference is that flood insurance—more specifically, a National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) policy—is a separate policy at an additional cost to your regular home insurance. In most cases, you can purchase the insurance through your existing insurer (to find out if they offer NFIP policies, visit the FEMA website). While this may sound easy, there are a few essential things to consider before purchasing flood insurance.
First, NFIP policies are only available in participating communities. Most communities do participate (you can find out by looking up your location in FEMA’s community status book), but this is an important factor. Second, you’ll need to know what flood zone you live in and your level of risk. While your agent can look up this information, doing your homework in advance will help you shop around for the best rate. Third, if a hurricane is about to land and you haven’t yet purchased a policy, you’re likely out of luck. Most policies take 30 days to come into effect. Fourth, if you have a policy, pay attention to what it covers. If you’ve purchased a building/structure flood policy, it will cover damage to your building but not to the contents of your building (e.g., your furniture, clothing, appliances and other personal items). To be fully covered, you’ll also need to take out a separate policy covering your home’s contents.

Flood Insurance for Renters

In most cases, discussions of flood insurance focus on homeowners’ needs alone, but this doesn’t mean that flood insurance isn’t also a potential concern for renters. Renters insurance or HO-4 policies cover the loss or destruction of personal belongings from a total to sixteen events that include everything from windstorms and hail to riot or civil commotion and volcanic eruption. What renters insurance policies don’t cover is flood damage. For this reason, if you are a renter who lives in an at-risk area, you may also want to purchase an NFIP policy. Renters policies cover up to $100,000 in damages to a home’s contents. Rates are determined based on multiple factors, including your flood zone, the building’s year of construction, and number of floors.

Additional Info About the Building

Contributing Writer Cait Etherington Cait Etherington has over twenty years of experience working as a journalist and communications consultant. Her articles and reviews have been published in newspapers and magazines across the United States and internationally. An experienced financial writer, Cait is committed to exposing the human side of stories about contemporary business, banking and workplace relations. She also enjoys writing about trends, lifestyles and real estate in New York City where she lives with her family in a cozy apartment on the twentieth floor of a Manhattan high rise.