The City of Key West, Florida

The Southernmost City in the Continental United States


Historic Building Exemptions

Key West has a large number of historic buildings, categorized as two types: 1) Historic, 2) Historically Contributing Structures.

Historic buildings are those 50 years of older.  Historically Contributing Structures are buildings identified on a Historic Structure Survey maintained by the city's Historic Architectural Review Commission (HARC), as authorized by the State of Florida's Division of Historic Resources.

Only those buildings listed as "historically contributing structures" meet FEMA's standards for historic building exemptions.

Certain exemptions are available for these contributing structures, when it comes to Substantial Improvement requirements.

These exemptions allow contributing structures to be Substantially Improved without requiring the building be elevated.  However, any machinery (A/C units etc.) and utilities (power meters/boxes) are not exempted from the elevation requirement.

Warning:  While exempt from elevation requirements, there aren't any flood insurance rate discounts for historic structures.  As a consequence, a building left below flood levels - historic or not - will pay significantly higher flood insurance premiums.


Q.  I'd like to build an addition to my home that has a historic exemption.  Would the addition be exempt as well?

A.  It depends.

  • If the cost of the addition will be less than 50% of value of the existing building, then the addition is exempt.
  • If the cost of the addition represents 50% or more of the value of the existing building, then the addition isn't exempt and elevation is required.
  • If the existing building will be renovated as well, then the total cost of both the renovations and new construction are included in the 50% threshold calculations.  
    • If this combined value is 50% or more, then the addition must be elevated, but the original building isn't required to be elevated.
      • The 50% calculations are cumulative for a five year period.  
        • For example... if the existing house was remodeled three years ago to 30% of it's value, and now the new addition would represent 25% of the existing building's value prior to the addition, then the addition must be elevated (30%+25% = 55%).
        • Using the above example, but if the addition was added first (25%), then within five years there was an application to renovate the original existing building (30%), that renovation application could not be approved.
    • The same rule applies whether the buildings are connected or not. Unless... a variance has been granted allowing an additional living unit on the lot.
  • When a historic contributing structure is moved or the foundation replaced, elevation of the building is required. 
  • For more information on the 50% rule, see Substantial Improvement.


Q.  My building enjoys a historic exemption (or is located in the historic district).  I'm not required to elevate it, but I want to.  Is this permitted?

A.  Yes, to some degree.  Any building governed by the Historic Architectural Review Commission (HARC) may be elevated to the Base Flood Elevation (BFE).  Raising it higher would require HARC approval.  Additionally, there may be building height limits that might apply. (See Elevation/Freeboard)



Contact Us

Scott Fraser,
FEMA Coordinator/Floodplain Administrator
Building Department
1300 White St
Key West, FL 33040
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