Flood Plain Building Restrictions


To participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), a community must agree to take on the responsibility of floodplain management. One of the key requirements of floodplain management is the enforcement of building restrictions.


  • Before starting construction in the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA), the NFIP requires that you apply for and receive development permits. The Special Flood Hazard Area is the area of land covered by the base flood shown on to the NFIP maps. To determine if your property is within the SFHA boundaries, visit the FEMA website and search their maps. FEMA is responsible for compiling flood insurance rate maps. As long as your community participates in the NFIP, you can view a digital flood risk map of your community. In return for agreeing to adapt sound floodplain management, the federal government makes flood insurance coverage available for buildings within the community.


  • FEMA requires permits to ensure that construction materials and building methods will minimize future flood damage. Permit files must contain documentation to substantiate building construction methods. The easiest way to make sure construction is up to standard is to consult with a registered surveyor and building inspector. You must apply for and receive a permit before undertaking any repair or improvement on property within the SFHA. In addition, you need a permit if you plan on grading or renovating the floodplain. There are various construction rules in the floodplain, including building the lowest floor of a structure at least a foot above the expected depth in a 100-year flood. In addition, there must be an elevation certificate completed by a registered engineer, architect or surveyor before you can turn on the electricity.

State Laws

  • The NFIP is a federal program, enforced by your state. The minimum federal requirements affect existing buildings only when an existing building sustains substantial damages or improvements. Because permit requirements differ from state to state, make sure you communicate with your state coordinating agency to find out precisely what you have to do to apply for a permit. For more information on state-specific regulations, visit the NFIP website and look for your state coordinating agency.

Areas outside the SFHA

  • The local floodplain management regulations required by the NFIP apply only in SFHAs. However, communities may regulate development in areas of moderate flood hazard. Building codes are different inside the floodplain from outside the floodplain.


  • There are exceptions in a case where a building receives substantial damages. The definition of substantial damage is flood damage equal to or greater than 50 percent of the structure's market value. You cannot reconstruct a building subject to substantial damages within a 10-year period.

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  • Photo Credit construction image by Sandra Henderson from Fotolia.com
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