FEMA’s Dreaded 50% Rule 

 January 10, 2023

By  Lora Keller

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Florida is an incredible and sought-after place to live because of its majestic and diverse nature. It’s no wonder that our nickname is “The Sunshine State”. 

Most people who move to Florida do so because they want to experience a kind of beauty that you can only find here.

But the warm weather and beautiful sunshine come with a price. 

Coastal cities and states like Florida deal with flooding and tropical storms that other areas of the country don’t. 

With many locals having their homes and businesses destroyed or damaged, they need to start to rebuild and pick up the pieces left after Hurricane Ian & Nicole. 

Unfortunately, if you live in a flood zone, you can run into some issues with construction and repairs. 

Have you ever heard of the FEMA 50% rule for Florida flood zones? 

What Is the 50% Rule in Florida? 

FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) has specific rules and regulations in place to help provide aid to Americans after a national disaster or in other times of great crisis.

The 50% rule is one such restriction that FEMA put into place.

The FEMA 50% rule states that any construction, repairs, additions, or renovations done on any property must remain under 50% of the appraised value of that property. 

You’re probably wondering “Okay, so what happens if the cost is above 50%? There have to be exceptions to this rule, right?”

Florida has a ton of different flood zones all throughout the state. And the 50% rule states that if the cost of construction is 50% or higher than the appraised value of the property you will be required to bring the property up to code in compliance with the most recent flood prevention regulations. 

Once again, you’re probably wondering “Okay, so what does that mean?”

In layman’s terms, this means that if your home is not above the current flood zone levels, then you will be required to raise the foundation level to ensure the entire structure is elevated enough to avoid flood damage in the future. 

For people dealing with all the devastation after Hurricane Ian, this is just another hoop that they have to jump through in order to rebuild their homes. 

This is a frustrating and often infuriating part of building in Florida. But there is a very good reason why FEMA came up with this rule. 

Why Does FEMA Use the 50% Rule?

Unfortunately, this is one of those situations where the few have ruined it for the many. What we mean by that is FEMA had little choice but to put this rule into place. Let me explain…

The problem is that flood zones around the coast are always changing and water levels increase. Let’s say there is a beautiful single-family home near the coast that was built back in 1960. 

Back when the home was first built it was safely outside any flood zones and there was no concern about dealing with flooding. But over the years the flood zones change and the water levels rise. 

Now, this single-family home is right in the middle of a new flood zone. Someone decides to buy the property in order to fix it up and flip it for profit. 

Unfortunately, not all people have a moral code and would rather take the easy way out instead of doing things the right way. 

So, they decide to rebuild and renovate the property all while ignoring the fact that this home is in a flood zone. Then they sell the property to a lovely family looking to buy their first home with a baby on the way. 

And everything might be fine for a year or two.. That is, until they deal with their first large tropical storm…

Now they are left with a $300,000 home that is only worth half what they paid for it due to all the water damage from the flooding. 

Even though the 50% rule in Florida is a huge pain to deal with, it is there to help protect all homeowners and future home buyers from those who would take advantage of them.  

It is easy to understand why FEMA put this rule into place. 

It is meant to help prevent construction crews and builders from continuing to cut corners and allow people to rebuild large buildings and homes in areas that are not safe.

The entire point of the 50% rule is to help local businesses and homeowners from being put into situations where their property will be at an even higher risk of damage.

FEMA’s 50% Rule Q&A:

Here are a few questions about the FEMA 50% rule that we hear all the time: 

  • What Is FEMA’s 50% Rule and Why Is It So Dreaded?

Simply put, FEMA’s 50% rule states that any property in a flood zone that is substantially damaged or substantially improved must be brought up to current flood zone standards including elevation of the property. That is why it is called the “dreaded 50% rule”. 

No one wants to deal with elevating the foundation of a property. It is a lot of work and the costs associated aren’t cheap. If you’re looking to renovate or repair any property in Florida, then you need to verify if you are in a flood zone and what precautions you should take before starting construction. 

  • What Is Considered Substantial When It Comes to FEMA’s 50 Percent Rule?

The 50% rule stipulates that a property only needs to be brought up to current flood codes if it was substantially damaged or substantially improved. But what does that mean?

FEMA considers “substantial” as 50% or higher (hence the name “50% rule”). So any repairs, renovations, or additions to the property must remain under 50% of the property’s appraised value. 

So for example:

If you have a home worth $400,000 and wanted to remodel, you would only be able to spend $199,999 on the renovation. If your construction costs hit $200,000 then the remodel would be considered “substantial” and FEMA would require you to bring the entire property up to code. Even if that means spending thousands of dollars to have the property’s foundation raised above flood level. 

  • What Doesn’t Count Towards the FEMA 50 Percent Rule?

There are several different situations in which the costs of a repair or remodel will not be taken into consideration when it comes to the 50% rule. There aren’t many exceptions to the 50% rule, however, these exceptions are for good reason. 

Here is a snippet taken from a PDF that has a lot of helpful information. 

“8. Are there any projects that do not count towards the 50% Rule? 

Yes, in the following examples, the cost of improvements does not apply to the 50% Rule:  

  • Any project for improvement of a building required to correct existing health, sanitary, or safety code violations identified by the building official and that are the minimum necessary to assure safe living conditions. This does not apply to structures that are considered “Substantially Damaged.”  
  • Any repair, rehabilitation or addition constituting substantial improvement to a designated historic structure may be exempt, but the owner must receive in writing approval from the Florida Division of Historic Resources office that the structure will maintain its historical integrity and historical classification.  
  • Costs of alterations or improvements whose express purpose is the mitigation of future storm damage, provided the costs of such measures, plus the costs of any other improvements, do not exceed 50% of the market value of the structure over any one-year period; examples of such mitigation include the installation of storm shutters or impact resistant glass, strengthening of roof attachments, floors, or walls, and minor measures to reduce flood damage. Mitigation improvements may be made in the same year as other improvements, but the total cost of both types of improvements may not exceed 50% of the market value of the structure.  
  • Costs related to the development of plans and specifications, surveys, and permits.”

Here is a link if you would like to take a look at the entire PDF: 

Fort Myers Beach Florida 50% Rule Info Sheet

Lora Keller


Lora Keller 

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