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Buying in a flood-prone area: What you need to know

Published on February 28, 2024

Many homeowners dream of living by the water. Be it the view, the tranquility or the possibility of owning a boat, there are lots of advantages to this type of location. However, some shorelines are prone to high water in spring, so the decision to buy in a flood-prone area shouldn’t be made hastily.

Here’s what you need to know before buying a house near water.


What’s a flood-prone area?

An area of land that has a risk of flooding because it is near a watercourse is known as a flood-prone area. The watercourse may overflow during spring freshet, when there is significant rainfall or when the snow melts quickly, and can cause significant property damage.

The administration of flood-prone areas is regulated by government organizations. For instance, the Quebec’s Ministry of the Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change (Ministère de l'Environnement, de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques, de la Faune et des Parcs, or MELCC) plays a role in assessing and managing flood risks. Municipalities also have responsibilities in terms of urban planning and zoning to minimize the natural risks due to flooding.

The risks of buying a house in a flood-prone area

Buying a property where there is a risk of flooding exposes you to significant hazards, the most obvious of which is rising water, which can cause damage, loss of personal goods and even sometimes safety concerns for the occupants.

There are strict regulations in flood-prone areas as well as specific requirements for building design and construction. This can mean additional costs when renovating.

Flooded area in the winter

How to know if a property or lot is in a flood-prone area

To check whether a building is in a flood-prone area, start by contacting the municipality where the property is located to get information about zoning and the bylaws in force. Do this before beginning the buying process.

This is important information that must be known before buying real estate. Flood-prone areas are usually indicated on the certificate of localisation (also known as a surveyor’s certificate). If the certificate of localisation is not up to date when you are looking for a property, there are other ways of finding the information you need.

The Quebec government is due to present its new permanent regulations governing land use in flood-prone areas in the spring of 2024, with updated mapping and new terms. Instead of "0-20 year" or "0-100 year" flood zones, we'll be talking about "high" or "moderate" flood risk.

Map of flood-prone areas

The MELCC offers an interactive map of flood-prone areas  in the province. It lets users know which regional county municipality (RCM) or local municipality to contact to get precise boundaries of the flood-prone areas and the current standards in force.

The mapping app Géo-Inondations is also useful to see the places that may be affected by rising water in the coming years, or that have been in the past. In many cases, municipalities also have their own maps.

Houses located near a body of water

4 actions to take when considering buying a property in a flood-prone area

1. Understand the risk level thoroughly

There are two types of flood-prone areas: low-current and high-current. These are defined using several factors, including precipitation, flow rate of the waterways, topography, pack ice formation and soil characteristics.

They are generally defined in terms of years, according to the flood recurrence period. These indicate the frequency at which flooding of considerable magnitude may occur. Here are the two defined zones:

  • 0- to 20-year flood zone A high-current area that runs a 1 in 20 (or 5%) risk of being flooded in any given year. The level of danger is considered concerning.
  • 20- to 100-year flood zone A low-current area that runs a 1 in 100 risk of being flooded in any given year. The threat may be low but is still a possibility.

2. Inspect the property

Past flooding may have caused significant damage to the building. It is important to request an in-depth inspection  to identify existing problems and determine what measures are needed to mitigate the impacts of future floods. This information can help buyers make an informed decision in light of the facts and the costs the situation may involve.

3. Find out the municipal bylaws

It’s important to check out all the available sources of information to find out what bylaws and measures are in place:

  1. Municipal website Most municipalities have made their bylaws, urban planning and information on flood-prone areas available online.
  2. Municipal planning authority The staff in this department can provide further details about bylaws, zoning and restrictions.
  3. Environment bureau This is an interesting source to consult if the municipal bylaws include environmental considerations.

4. Look into potential changes in the land over the coming years

Strategic planning helps guarantee the property’s sustainability and safety over time. Like it or not, properties are subject to change due to factors such as these:

  • Climate change can disrupt weather patterns, which can increase the risk of flooding.
  • Government regulations can be updated to reflect new climate data and current information about flood risks. For instance, new flood-prone areas may be identified if a new dam is built upstream or if a large landslide occurs.
  • Soil erosion can affect the topography in an area, making it more vulnerable to flood risks.

By considering how their property may evolve over time, the owners can take preventive steps to protect their real estate.

Four factors to consider before buying a property in a flood zone

Insuring a home in a flood-prone area

Taking out suitable insurance can be touchy when the residence is in a flood-prone area. Insurance companies may have specific requirements, such as installing pumping systems or dikes. They can also have coverage limitations or even specifically exclude damage from flooding. In such cases, you must get special insurance to cover this risk.

It is strongly recommended to contact several insurance firms, compare their offers, and understand their terms and conditions relating to insurance policies against flooding.

Is the home insurable?

Any type of house in a flood-prone area is eligible for basic insurance—such as protection against fire or theft. However, insurance companies may refuse to include a rider to cover flooding because of the high level of risk. Insurance premiums are established using a variety of factors such as the residence’s location, its flood history and the mitigation measures that are in place.

How being in a flood-prone area impacts insurance price

Home insurance can be much more expensive for properties located in flood-prone areas. Insurance companies take the additional risk into account, and this is reflected in the premium price.

House located on the banks of a lake

The value of a home in a flood-prone area

Homes located in flood-prone areas may lose value due to the risks involved. This can complicate the resale of the property and have a negative impact on the overall investment. What's more, as of February 1, 2024, Desjardins will no longer lend to buy a property in a high-current flood zone (zone 0-20 years).

The only exception: buyers of properties where the seller already has a Desjardins mortgage may be able to obtain financing "in certain cases", but must put 35% down. In addition, the property must be "immunized", i.e. raised to prevent future flooding, and protected by protective measures such as an embankment.

Other institutions have no clearly defined policy. Before authorizing a loan for a property located in a flood zone, the National Bank analyzes various factors on a case-by-case basis, including the type of building and whether it is built in the flood zone, the insurability of the loan and/or property, and the borrower's financial soundness.

Living in a flood-prone area

Regardless of the type of property, living in a flood-prone area can involve dealing with challenges such as emergency evacuations and disruptions in the supply of power and drinking water. This means that the day-to-day lives of people living in these areas are frequently disturbed. The constant threat of flooding can also cause emotional stress to the occupants, due to worries about their safety and the structural integrity of their home.

It is essential that homeowners take preventive measures to reduce the risk of damage, for instance complying with the construction standards adapted for flood-prone areas and having an emergency plan.

Buying a property in a flood-prone area should not be taken lightly. In-depth understanding of the risks and good risk planning can help buyers make thoughtful decisions and minimize the potential negative impacts. Knowledgeable buyers will then be better prepared for nature’s unpredictability.

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