188.8.131.52 Code Enforcement
Municipal code issues are an unavoidable aspect of disaster recovery for homeowners.95 Code issues arise if the municipal code office is unavailable due to the disaster, or if shoddy work from the contractor prevents the code office from issuing a required inspection certificate for repairs to continue. If a house had work done by a previous contractor that was not code compliant, or the house is so old that it never complied with code, the costs and work required to make the home code-compliant may be extensive.
Home repair contractors must obtain necessary permits to start work, and municipal code enforcement must approve the work before a certificate of occupancy issues for the homeowner to move back into the property. Reputable contractors include these itemized costs in the work invoice, but consumers should make sure there is no ambiguity. If the contract does not specify who pays for these costs then the homeowner may be responsible.
For flood-insured homeowners recovering from flood damage, NFIP policies contain an increased cost of compliance (ICC) allowance of up to $30,000 for elevation or other hazard mitigation repairs. To qualify for ICC coverage, FEMA requires the homeowner to submit a substantial damage determination (SDD) letter from their municipality’s floodplain manager. SDD letters state that the cost of damage exceeds fifty percent of the property’s pre-disaster fair market value. There may be a municipal elevation requirement even if the homeowner does not carry flood insurance.
SDD letters increase the total repair cost for a homeowner, as fees for elevation can range from $6000 to upwards of $90,000, depending on many variables including home footprint, soil quality, and the required number of feet by which the home must be elevated. SDD letters can be appealed by homeowners based on insufficient information or errors in the calculation, repair costs that should be included or excluded from the calculation, inappropriate valuations of costs for the proposed work, or an inappropriate method to determine market value.96
A homeowner needing repairs that violate municipal zoning regulations must apply for a zoning variance. Variance applications often require notice and a hearing before the municipal governing body; other residents may object to the variance. Ultimately, the variance application may be denied, and then the homeowner may then encounter further costs for changing the scope of repair work.
95 The Minnesota Building Official has a Disaster Preparedness Manual specifically designed so that local building departments can more effectively assist their communities in times of critical need. Minnesota Building Official, Disaster Preparedness Manual (5th ed. 2019), available at https://dli.mn.gov. See also Rob Moore, NDRC Expert Blog, “Disaster Recovery Reform Act Is a Smart Move . . . Mostly” (Oct. 10, 2018), available at https://www.nrdc.org (“Local communities will be allowed to use federal disaster aid to hire more building inspectors to ensure repairs are done in compliance with the most up-to-date building codes. In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, everyone’s first instinct is to rebuild. But often the homes and buildings that were damaged were decades old, and not in compliance with more modern building codes. Without adequate inspections and enforcement, those structures may never be updated, leaving them just as vulnerable to the next disaster.”).
96 42 U.S.C. § 4011(b); FEMA, National Flood Insurance Program, Increased Cost of Compliance Coverage Section 2: ICC Coverage (Sept. 2003), available at https://www.fema.gov; FEMA, Substantial Improvement/Substantial Damage (SI/SD), Substantial Damage Fundamentals, available at https://www.swc.nd.gov.