No One Might Tell You if Your Future Home Has Ever Flooded

Millions of American homes are threatened by flooding, but it can be extremely difficult for a home buyer to gauge the risk due to a lack of access to a property’s flood history. Nearly half of all states do not require sellers to tell buyers whether a property has been flooded—that needs to change.

NRDC and Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law reviewed all 50 states’ real estate disclosure laws and found that in many places, home buyers are not given the information that they need to make informed decisions about whether they should buy a house, which is a major financial investment.

Explore the scorecard and interactive map detailing each state’s provisions, including:

  • Florida and Missouri that have no statutory or regulatory requirement that a seller disclose past flood damages;
  • New York where sellers can pay $500 to not disclose previous flooding;
  • North Carolina that only requires the most basic of flood information;
  • On the other hand, Louisiana which has top-notch disclosure requirements; and
  • Texas and South Carolina which improved their rules following major flooding disasters

What Should Home Buyers Have a Right to Know?

We cannot expect home buyers to make good decisions if they are denied information. States should have disclosure laws that ensure that persons selling a property disclose the following information:

  • Whether the home has ever been damaged by a flood and the extent of the damage;
  • Whether the home is located in a floodplain and, if it is, the flood zone classification (100-year or 500-year) of the property and the source and date of this information; and
  • Whether the seller and/or previous owners ever received federal disaster aid that would require all future owners to obtain and maintain flood insurance on the property and, if they have, the type of aid and amount received.

However, such disclosure and transparency provisions should not be limited to disclosure requirements imposed on sellers. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) must also improve the information that is available to both home buyers and homeowners. Current homeowners that have not had the luxury of living in a state with good flood hazard disclosure laws should have a right to know about their property’s flood risk. This should include any past history of flood insurance coverage, damage claims paid, and whether there is a legal requirement to purchase flood insurance because of past owners’ receipt of federal disaster aid. This is information that Federal Emergency Management Agency should have if a property was ever covered by the NFIP. 

As part of NFIP reform, the program should evolve to require greater disclosure and transparency of flood risk data. Such reforms should include:

  • Nationwide disclosure requirements of flood risk information upon the sale or lease of a property. As a condition of participation in the NFIP, states should be required to enact disclosure laws that provide the information outlined above about flood risk;
  • A public right-to-know provision. FEMA should be required to create a centralized, free, open-to-the-public data system to share information related to flood damage claims, number of repeatedly flooded properties, and whether communities are properly enforcing local building and zoning codes required under the NFIP; and
  • A homeowner right-to-know provision. Upon request, FEMA should be required to provide homeowners a “right to know” about their property’s past history of flood insurance coverage, damage claims paid, and whether there is a legal requirement to purchase flood insurance because of past owners’ receipt of federal disaster aid.

As sea levels rise and heavy rainstorms become more common, tens of thousands of communities can expect increasing vulnerability to flooding. Homeowners, buyers, and renters should not be kept in the dark about this risk when choosing where their family will call home.


About the Authors

Joel Scata

Water and Climate Attorney, Water Initiatives, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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