September 6, 2017

“After All This, Will I Even Be Allowed to Rebuild?” – What You Need to Know About the 50% Rule

Yesterday the Permit Office began accepting applications for flood repairs.  Over the course of the day they received 27 applications.  After sorting them according to their complexity to allow for the most expedited review, the Building Official was able to approve and issue 11 permits same-day.  But while things are moving quickly at the Permit Office, owners of older Bellaire homes that flooded are faced with an additional concern:  Will they even be allowed to rebuild?

Below I give you my overview of this issue, but if you take away nothing else what’s important for you to know is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer.  It’ll depend on the specific facts and circumstances of each house, and the City has no way of making a determination until a permit application with supporting documentation is reviewed.  Please don’t jump to any conclusions or make hasty decisions, and be assured the staff will explore all available options with you.

I’ll refer to it as the “50% Rule.”  It’s mandated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the City is required to enforce it as part of our National Flood Insurance Program community floodplain management rating.  Essentially, the 50% Rule provides that if the cost of improvements or to repair damage exceeds 50% of the market value of the structure, it must be brought into compliance.  Note also that the Rule is cumulative of past repair costs, so for homes that flooded in 2015 and/or 2016, new flooding from Hurricane Harvey might bring the total above the 50% mark.  This was explained to affected homeowners back at the time their prior flood repairs were permitted.

For many of you this is not welcome news, but again I emphasize you mustn’t jump to conclusions before visiting the Permit Office.  Please don’t make any decisions based solely on your contractor’s repair estimate or on the value of your structure according to the Harris County Appraisal District.  The Building Official may consider an alternative scope of work to bring down the documented cost of repairs.  And as they have in past flooding events, in consultation with FEMA, department staff may be able to utilize other valuation tools to establish a more realistic value per square foot than the HCAD appraised value.

If you’re worried about the 50% Rule and how it might apply to your situation, please go see the folks in the Permit Office.  They’re here to help you.