Before you renovate, look at new FEMA rules
Hoboken homeowners and home buyers face new challenges when considering extensive renovations because of recent changes in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regulations.
FEMA now forces homeowners who make improvements that raise the value of a property by more than 50 percent to conform to new base flood elevation rules. Under this directive, ground-level and basement dwellings that fall within revised FEMA flood areas must be elevated above the flood level or owners will lose the use of these spaces and utilities must be relocated. Revised FEMA flood maps place 79 percent of Hoboken in a flood zone and the city’s entire Hudson River coastline is now within FEMA’s “coastal high hazard” zone.
FEMA says it implemented the new guidelines because flooding during Super Storm Sandy far exceeded existing base flood elevations; by as much as several feet in some areas. Hoboken was once an island with tidal lands to the west. A heavy rainfall that coincides with a high tide of the Hudson River impedes water draining into the river, resulting in extensive street flooding. A flood pump on Observer Highway completed in 2012 improves expelling water into the river, but it has not fully solved flooding problems in Southwest Hoboken. A second flood pump is planned for Northwest Hoboken.
City officials argue that it is not feasible for building owners to raise attached multi-story buildings to comply with the requirements. They also say some elevators would not be able to stop below the second floor, necessitating elaborate and expensive handicapped ramps. The rules adversely impact the utilization of street-level spaces in the flood hazard areas, and harm street life and community character, the city says.
For certain, the regulations will severely impact home sales and renovations as well as some home values in Hoboken’s dense urban neighborhoods. There are also numbers legal implications that homeowners and home buyers must consider when properties are located in flood areas.