House approves sweeping flood insurance reforms

July 15, 2010 5:36:03 PM PDT
Congress approved sweeping insurance reforms that effect thousands of homeowners after a series of 7 On Your Side reports pointed out flaws in official FEMA flood maps.

On Thursday, sweeping reforms were approved in Congress.

7 On Your Side reports helped inspire the new legislation that gives homeowners more rights if they are unfairly forced to buy flood insurance. These reforms won the approval of the full House of Representatives Thursday bringing homeowners a lot closer to relief.

Adeline McKinnon of Sunnyvale has lived 50 years safe and snug in her house. Suddenly, a new FEMA flood map declared that she was in a hazard zone and needed to buy flood insurance. Another map put Minh Tien of Milpitas in a flood zone, while his next door neighbor is not. The same thing happened to Robert Cummings of Livermore.

Cummings told 7 On Your Side it "requires us, of course, to buy flood insurance, which is quite expensive."

In spite of errors in new FEMA flood maps, the homeowners were forced to pay more than $2,000 each for flood insurance they do not need. However, proving the maps wrong is so costly and complex, most homeowners give up and pay.

"This is impacting thousands of Americans and it's wrong that the federal government is making them pay the price to challenge the federal government," Rep. Steven Dreihaus of Ohio told House members.

On Thursday, the House took a big step to change all that.

"When you find FEMA to be wrong, tha payment shouldn't be incurred by you the property owner, but it should be reimbursed by FEMA," said.

The law currently states that if you have a federally-backed mortgage and the FEMA map puts you in a flood zone, right or wrong, you must buy flood insurance.

Congresswoman Jackie Speier responded to 7 On Your Side reports about the flaws by proposing reforms which Congress overwhelmingly approved. For one thing, owners of homes newly placed in a flood zone would get five years notice before they must start buying insurance. Also, banks could only require enough insurance to cover the mortgage debt on the house, instead of covering the home's full value.

The law also would set up a consumer advocate within FEMA to help homeowners to challenge a flood map. Also, thousands of homeowners who've hired engineers to prove the FEMA flood maps are wrong would be reimbursed for those expenses.

"Our constituents are going to get some justice, some real attention," Congresswoman Maxine Waters, the bill's primary sponsor, told the House.

The measure still needs to go to the Senate for its consideration and the fate of the bill there, of course, is uncertain. 7 On Your Side will keep you posted.


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