Yes, I can clearly see several violations in this photo. Yet, unfortunately, “ugly” is not one of them. This article is the first part in a series we will present on floodplain management violations and enforcement. Many floodplain administrators have asked our office about dealing with violations situations. This year we hope to offer a workshop on the topic.
We all know about the options in the ordinance dealing with fines and legal action. Yet it’s to everyone’s best interest to gain compliance without these more aggressive tools. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” So this week we will address the “speaking softly” aspect of floodplain management, and save the “big stick” for the next newsletter.
Know Your Ordinance
Knowing your floodplain ordinance thoroughly will allow you to speak with confidence. You will be able to address issues with an air of collaboration without the hint of uncertainty. Some perceive this uncertainty as a reason to simply do what they want. And be very familiar with your Flood Insurance Rate Map.
Watch Your Body Language
The goal in any situation is to achieve compliance voluntarily, not by resorting to fines or other enforcement actions. Therefore, you should remain professional and avoid giving the impression you are above the person you are dealing with. If they come to your office and stand there venting at you, stand as well. If they sit, you sit too; don’t cross your arms; give eye contact; hold the calls; give the owner your attention. All of these strategies will help everyone, including your bosses, see that a reasonable solution can be found.
Often, the property owner simply wants to be heard. Try paraphrasing what they say and repeat it back to them. Allow them to correct the parts you misunderstood. Listen to them; even empathize with them if you can. If mistakes have been made by your office, admit them. There is no need to be defensive. The ordinance is still the ordinance and ultimately we are not looking for who is right or wrong, we are looking for compliance.
Take good notes, but be cautious. If this issue goes south, your notes may end up as evidence. Keep them professional.
Flood Insurance Rate Table
If a property owner is determined to build their property out of compliance with your regulations and below BFE, it might be a good idea to talk about flood insurance implications they may run into. For example, a one-story home built 1 foot below BFE might be about $6700/year and the same home built 2 feet above BFE might be about $650/yr. This may help demonstrate what they are getting in to and to show them you are trying to help them rather than punish them. If they are not planning on purchasing flood insurance, they will know that their decision will devalue their property and it is not in their best financial interest.
Hopefully, your professionalism and good sense will encourage everyone to follow the rules. In the next Floodplain Management Today, we’ll cover the heavier enforcement tools at your disposal.
Furthermore, if you have recommendations or experiences you would like to share, we’d like to hear about them. The more examples we have, the better advice we can give to other communities in similar situations.