Is Your House in a Flood Zone? Here’s How You Can Find Out

Flood maps matter.
FEMA Flood Map Honolulu
Photo: Courtesy of Federal Emergency Management Agency


As Hawai‘i heads into its rainy season, it might be a good idea to spend some time thinking about the impact that any potential floods might have on your home.


The Federal Emergency Management Agency, also known as FEMA, is largely known in Hawai‘i as the agency that helps us after hurricanes. It also determines flood zones and is the largest provider of flood insurance in Hawai‘i. Private flood insurance is available, but rarely purchased, and is usually a secondary policy based on a requirement of having the maximum ($250,000) FEMA policy first.


Our state passed a law in 2012 that allows some farmers and ranchers to build structures on agriculturally zoned land that don’t conform to building code requirements. FEMA didn’t like it. The law has specific rules—structures must be smaller than 1,000 square feet and can’t be residential—so you probably shouldn’t put them on Airbnb if you choose to break those rules (ahem, Kunia Loa Ridge).


Just this spring, FEMA sent Gov. David Ige a letter stating that this law was incompatible with FEMA’s flood insurance program. FEMA doesn’t have to insure us here in Hawai‘i, but it does, with strings—and one of those strings is sticking to the federal government’s regulations for building.


What happens if you live in an area that’s been reclassified as a flood zone and suddenly can’t get flood insurance? You can’t get a mortgage on your property. Lenders require flood insurance, because it’s not part of homeowner’s insurance, which normally covers wind, fire and liability. What happens to your current mortgages if the flood insurance is canceled? One of two things. Your lender could potentially get you a private policy and bill you. Or you could suddenly be in default and foreclosed upon.


FEMA says change the law by July 31, 2017. Hawai‘i says we’re not repealing, but we’ll deal with it in the next legislative session, which starts in January.


Want to know if you’re in a flood zone? Click here to find out.