Many home buyers are completely unaware of whether their supposed dream home has flooded before. Too many homeowners learn of their property’s propensity to flood only after suffering through multiple disasters. You may think you have a right to know if the home you’re buying has been underwater before, but no such right exists in nearly half of U.S. states.
In 21 states, there are no statutory or regulatory requirements for a seller to disclose a property’s flood risks or past flood damages to a potential buyer. The other 29 states have varying degrees of disclosure requirements. This hodgepodge of state and local policies hinders buyers from making fully informed decisions.
In fact, many Americans who are about to make one of the biggest financial investments of their lives have zero knowledge of whether a house has flooded and is likely to flood again. This problem could be solved simply by having access to information—information that the seller of the home may have. And if the previous owners had flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), the country’s program to provide low-cost insurance to people whose homes are susceptible to flooding, then the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would have a record of past flooding it could share, too.
The NFIP must do more than just help homeowners quickly rebuild after a flood—the program must also ensure that all homeowners and home buyers have a right to know a property’s history of flooding and risk of flooding again. Congress must reform the NFIP to make it easier for people to access flood hazard information. The more information current or prospective homeowners have, the better equipped they are to avoid purchasing a flood-prone home or to take measures to reduce the risk of damage. This information would not only benefit homeowners, but also taxpayers’ pocketbooks. Floods create a heavy burden for the country’s disaster response budget and the financial stability of the NFIP. As climate change fuels sea level rise and more extreme weather, the need for greater transparency of flood risks will become only more imperative.
All prospective homeowners should have access to important information about flood risk, so they can protect themselves and their property. To close the current information gap, we will continue pushing for reform of the NFIP so that it includes provisions for greater disclosure and transparency of flood hazards and risk. NRDC recommends:
- FEMA 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.
- FEMA create a public, open-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.
- As a condition of NFIP participation, states adopt comprehensive flood hazard disclosure requirements for real estate transactions that provide home buyers a right to know about a property’s history of flood damages, whether the property is required to be covered by flood insurance, and whether the property is located in a flood zone.