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Post-Sandy Building Codes Protect Property, Raise Reconstruction Costs

Building code changes in the wake of Hurricane Sandy are raising rebuilding costs for homeowners and other property owners while still attempting to mitigate future damages.

In New York City, one- and two-family low-rise homes constructed before 1961 suffered the most damage from the storm, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The damage was similar to the same types of structures damaged in comparable flood and erosion conditions, FEMA said in its Hurricane Sandy Mitigation Assessment Team Report.

Houses in flood hazard areas of Long Island that are currently being rebuilt are now required to be elevated, and code officials are required to list these as three-story single-family homes, Lewis Dubuque, executive vice president of the New York State Builders Association, said.

The code requires such homes to be furnished with fire sprinklers as well. These requirements add an additional $10,000 to $20,000 to the cost of a home, Dubuque said.

"Fortunately, New York state is allowing these homeowners to apply for state funds from the Governor's Office of Storm Recovery to offset the additional costs," he said.

When homeowners rebuild, their home will also be subject to a more stringent code than when it was originally built, drastically impacting the cost of the home, Dubuque said.

Code changes were approved earlier this year by the New York City Council.

Most of the changes are for new construction or major renovations, so they would be more easily incorporated than retroactive requirements to existing buildings, Jamie McShane, senior vice president of communications of The Real Estate Board of New York, said.

"There is a clear recognition that buildings need to be more resilient to flooding and the impacts of climate change going forward," McShane said. "For large developments, many requirements may have been incorporated even without new regulations to reassure tenants or because of insurance requirements."

Some of the new requirements are actually more lenient regulations like the ability to install flood barriers into sidewalks, which would actually assist the owners of buildings in cost savings, McShane said.

There is one requirement for retroactive installation, which requires a potable water source for every 100 people in a residential building. It could cost anywhere from zero to a few thousand dollars, depending on the building.

The requirement takes effect immediately for new construction however, there is an eight-year grace period for existing buildings.

Projects receiving assistance under the New York Rising Housing Recovery program must also meet certain "green" standards.

"If this is a substantial rebuild, expect substantial additional costs," Dubuque said.

Earlier in April, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a major overhaul to post-Sandy recovery programs.

Among the overhaul's goals, one goal is having at least 500 homes under construction and 500 reimbursement checks issued by the end of the summer of 2014.