Elevation Certificates

"Water, water everywhere, Nor any drop to drink." With apologies to Coleridge, water is a necessary element to civilization, but at the same time has been the source of calamity as well. One doesn't have to look to New Orleans to recall flood-related disasters; Baltimore has also had more than its share. The Jones Falls flooded so often that the City fathers finally deemed it expedient to pave over the stream and "the Fallsway" was born. More recently, Hurricane Isabel turned Fells Point streets into canoe-ways and widened Baltimore's Inner Harbor by half a block in a couple of directions.

Fells Point meets Isabel

In response to natural disasters such as these, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has promulgated regulations for the issuance of flood insurance and for construction and habitation in what it calls "flood hazard areas." One of the components of the flood management program is the Elevation Certificate. This is a form filled in and certified by surveyors (usually*), and documents conditions relating to the building under consideration. That data concerns the precise location of the structure, any openings at grade or below grade, the general nature of the basement (whether it is a walk-out, etc.), and elevations above sea level of places both within and immediately adjacent to the building. Most of the information requires an on-site survey with access to the lower areas of the building required.

FEMA has also issued "Flood Insurance Rate Maps" (FIRMs) for the Baltimore area that delineate which areas it deems at flood risk. Information thereon is used in the Elevation Certificate to complete the loop: where the property is; whether it is in a flood hazard zone; the nature of the construction; and the various heights above sea level pertinent to the building.

Armed with that data, building code officials can determine whether the construction comports with the federal requirements, and insurance agents can compute a flood insurance premium.

One thing to keep in mind: FEMA issues new maps with modified flood hazard areas periodically. If your property was once within a flood zone (and are paying flood insurance premiums as a result), it might be worthwhile to see whether it remains in such a zone. See the most current zones here.

Need an Elevation Certificate? Contact us.

*Architects and engineers can certify the form when it pertains to proposed construction, but a new certificate, certified by a surveyor, will be required when construction is complete. (In Maryland, neither architects nor engineers are licensed to certify elevations.)

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