An elevation certificate (FEMA Form 81-31) is an important administrative tool that is used to document elevation information necessary to ensure compliancy with community floodplain management regulations. This form was created by the NFIP to determine the proper flood insurance premium rate to be charged for buildings in the floodplain.
Although the form may look intimidating, it is actually very straightforward. A set of instructions precedes the actual certificate itself, and a step by step explanation walks you through the form. A registered land surveyor or engineer is the only person qualified to place a stamp on the certificate, which validates and legitimizes the information provided on the form.
Information on the form includes basic things like the owner’s name, a legal description of the property, which flood zone the property is in, the BFE (base flood elevation), the elevation of the lowest floor and machinery supporting the building, and the stage of construction. This is very important, and there are three choices indicated on the elevation certificate that may be checked off. The first one is based on “construction drawings”, the second is “building under construction”, and the third is “finished construction”. In the event of a flood and the need to collect on a flood insurance premium or disaster assistance, the NFIP and FEMA only recognize the “finished construction” certificate to be of value, since this certificate validates the actual elevation of a finished product. So this elevation certificate is what Pinal County requires as a condition of procuring a certificate of occupancy. The elevation certificate is the only “proof” that the home was set in accordance with the floodplain requirements.
Prior to building a house in any unnumbered Zone A flood zone, Pinal County determines the base flood elevation for that particular site. The Flood Control District then uses this information to determine the regulatory elevation at which to set the lowest floor, or the bottom of the frame of a manufactured home. This information is transferred to the permit so the inspector knows how high the home has to be placed in order to be compliant. But at completion of the construction, a surveyor or engineer has to come back out to the property a second time to validate that this house has been set at the correct height at which time he would fill out the "final construction" elevation certificate.