The Beginning

Homeowners forced to buy flood insurance after FEMA redraws maps
It's part of an ongoing effort to update the list of high-risk areas. But the changes have met with resistance from tens of thousands of Southern California residents now being forced to buy coverage.

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How to check your property's flood status

By Catherine Saillant
January 4, 2010
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Tens of thousands of homeowners in Southern California are being forced to buy costly flood insurance because new maps issued by a federal agency say they live in a high-risk flood area.

The federal government has informed property owners in more than 150 cities and unincorporated areas in Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, Riverside and San Bernardino counties about the new requirement. Most live near rivers and creeks, below dams or in low- lying areas that are at greater risk of flooding than previously believed, according to maps developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Premiums range from $500 to more than $1,700 a year. Insurance is mandatory for anyone with a federally backed mortgage, and lenders will typically buy policies, sometimes at a higher cost, for property owners who fail to do so on their own. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac own or guarantee more than half of all U.S. mortgages.

Angry homeowners in several parts of Southern California dispute the new maps and have formed groups to challenge them.

In some cases, local governments are paying for studies to challenge FEMA's maps, and in a few cases, the agency has backed down.

The new maps are part of a nationwide effort that FEMA began in 2003 to better identify properties that could flood in a so-called 100-year storm -- the type of deluge that FEMA calculates has a 1% likelihood of occurring in any given year. In much of the country, the redrawn maps greatly increase the number of homes included in flood zones.

Property owners in some areas, including...