Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Yes, I'm a lawyer. Why do you ask?

So, the sellers send me their Natural Hazard Disclosure form. Which says the house isn't in a flood risk zone or an earthquake zone (like you can know this) but is in fact in a High Risk Fire Zone.

Really? Based on my totally unscientific study -- which consisted of looking up the street to see how far from the mountains the house was -- I would have said not.

Being in a High Risk Fire Zone, according to the Natural Hazard Disclosure form, requires the property owner (soon to be me) to take certain precautions with the property. I looked 'em up. It's basically keeping trees properly trimmed so that a fire doesn't easily leap from a tree to the house. I am down with this whether I'm in a High Risk Fire Zone or not, but words like "High Risk Fire Zone" say "High Insurance Premiums" to me, so I wanted to take a second look.

Thankfully, the internet provides this information. A little googling leads me to the State's website on Fire Protection Areas (or whatever they call it) and I find a fire hazard zone map of my City. Which does not have the property in a High Risk Zone. Actually, it isn't even in a Moderate Risk Zone. It's right there in a normal risk zone.

I call up the Natural Hazard Disclosure guy and ask him where he found his info, because, y'know, my info says No Special Risk. He emails me his info (also from the internet). Says High Risk.

I compare and contrast maps (putting tremendous strain on my Acrobat Reader). His map says 2005. My map says 2007. I call him back and say, "my map is newer than your map." He says, "My map is the map I have to use." I said, "Who told you to use that map?" He doesn't know. He doesn't seem to care. (Apparently, his patience lasts only as far as showing me his map.)

I could let this go at this point, but, frankly, I'm having too much fun. (And I also think I have a reasonable chance of winning.)

I decide to take the dispute to a higher authority and contact the folks in the State Fire Protection (whatever) office. They are extremely friendly, and happy to help me figure out the deal with this property. I get what may be the official word -- although the woman who I spoke to asked me to send the info in email so she could show it to the head honcho next week, for the Absolutely Official Word.

So, the tentative official word is this: The "official" map is the County map, not the City map. The last time they updated the County map was in 2005, so my Natural Hazard Disclosure guy was, in fact using the currently effective map. However, they're in the process of updating the County maps, and their website has the 2007 draft County map (which reflects the map adopted by my City -- i.e. No Special Risk). They should make the final changes to the County map and approve it within a few months. Which means that the house is currently in a High Risk Zone, but very likely won't be within a few months. Which would be a swell thing in terms of fire insurance premiums.

I'm still keeping the trees safely trimmed.

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