If you’re selling or buying a house in a flood zone, it’s important to disclose and understand your property’s history with flood events.
Do you know your home’s flood history? Unless you built the place yourself, the answer is probably no.
Flood disclosure laws increasingly require homeowners to document the history of water damage and major storm damage on their properties.
Consider Texas, where following the massive flood damage caused by Hurricane Harvey in 2017, the state updated its legal disclosure requirements to be among the most thorough in the country.
Meanwhile, other states, including Mississippi and Florida, are flood-prone but lack clear requirements for disclosure. This puts potential homeowners at risk of unknowingly buying a house that has hidden structural damage.
If you're selling your home, document and share any known history of flooding on your property, whether or not it's required by law. This will help future occupants ensure they have flood insurance if a rainy day arrives.
Here’s what you need to know about flood disclosures to make sure you’re prepared – even if you don't plan on selling your home anytime soon.
What’s a flood disclosure law?
Flood disclosure laws require sellers to provide written disclosure of any flooding or water damage they are aware of. This disclosure might also denote whether the buyers will be required to carry a flood insurance policy.
Disclosures impact both buyers and sellers:
- They ensure that homebuyers don’t purchase a home with hidden structural damage or go without necessary flood coverage.
- Sellers are required by some state laws to disclose the history of flooding on the property.
If you’re unsure of your state’s flood disclosure rules, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is a good resource for flood disclosure laws by state.
The NRDC grades state disclosure laws on a few data points, but it also considers whether:
- Sellers are required to disclose their awareness of their property being damaged/impacted by flood issues.
- Flood insurance is required for the property at the time of the sale.
- Flood zone and floodway status disclosures are also required.
Why does it matter? If sellers fail to disclose this information in writing using the required form pre-contract, the contract of sale may be invalid.
Simply put: this disclosure makes sure homebuyers can make an informed purchase.
Flood disclosure laws require sellers provide written disclosure of any flooding or water damage they are aware of.
Do national flood disclosure laws exist?
There is not currently a national flood disclosure law, but some legislators want to change that. And there is precedent for this kind of requirement.
In 2017, Pew discussed how there is a standard for national disclosure, and that is the lead-based paint disclosure which requires sellers and landlords to test and disclose lead-based paints in houses built before 1978. It’s dangerous and potentially fatal for homeowners to be exposed to lead paint over time, especially children.
The same reasoning could be applied to floods: floods can be dangerous, too. And they are financially burdensome.
If you were aware that a property had flooded for 15 of the past 20 years in the month of June, would you be as likely to buy it? Would or willing to pay the flood insurance premium that goes along with it? Perhaps not, depending on your financial situation.
Homeowners today use a standard home inspection to uncover hidden risks and to make sure that the closing price reflects the condition of the house (or any repairs that may be necessary.
But this process has its limits: a home inspector can't look inside walls or know what kind of drainage a basement has in flooded conditions. That’s why the conversation around a national flood disclosure program continues.
When do homeowners need to be aware of flood disclosures?
You should be aware of local flood disclosure laws when you’re in the process of buying or selling a house in a flood zone. Before the closing, you’ll likely hire an inspector to perform a home inspection of the property.
Flood disclosures are part of the purchase and sale process, but homeowners should be aware of their flood risk and flood zone even if they have no intention of selling their home soon.
Resources for homeowners in flood zones
Every homeowner should know the answer to these two questions:
- Is my house in a flood zone?
- Am I required to disclose flooding if I sell my home?
Most homeowners who are in a flood zone know it – their home insurer likely requires them to carry flood insurance. This coverage may even be a condition of their mortgage.
Disclosure awareness is particularly important in high-risk areas where state requirements are weak. If you take a look at the NRDC flood disclosure map, you'll notice two states along the Gulf Coast lack state requirements, although both states have created voluntary disclosure forms: Alabama and Florida.
If you live in a flood-prone area, your city may even have its own resources to help homeowners (and realtors) navigate local requirements.
Coastal Jacksonville's county website speaks specifically to local flood risks that apply to all homeowners, not just those who are selling their homes.
If you want to understand your home’s flooding history, look up your local flood map. The easiest way to do this is to search online for “flood maps” or “flood insurance rate maps” followed by your city or town.
Be aware of local flood disclosures laws when you’re in the process of buying or selling a house in a flood zone.
What you need to know about flood insurance maps
The new flood season is year-round, and the government-funded flood maps that inform homeowners and homeowners insurance providers are struggling to keep up with the changing climate.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General discovered that 58 percent of FEMA’s flood maps are considered “inaccurate or out-of-date," and most are more than five years old.
So what does this mean for homeowners?
- You may need to ask around locally to find out if your home is in an area that flooded.
- Stay on top of FEMA flood map updates. FEMA's website also has a subscription option to help you stay current on changes to your flood zone.
The bottom line: you’ll need to be a little proactive to keep up with your flood risk these days.
Flood insurance for all
Flooding can be unpredictable and the effects can be devastating. Floods don’t just happen in areas outlined on the 100-year flood map.
Look at Hurricane Harvey, where heavy rains brought intense flooding to thousands of homes, many of which were outside the designated high-risk flood zones.
FEMA estimates that 13 million Americans live within a 100-year flood zone. These are areas with a one percent chance of flooding. This may not sound like much, but a new study by Environmental Research Letters (ERL) reported that FEMA's estimate was low.
By the ERL’s count, 41 million Americans are living in a 100-year flood zone. That's more than triple FEMA’s estimate of Americans who are exposed to serious flooding. And this number is expected to grow.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that by 2100, the oceans could rise by as much as 9.8 feet along the East Coast of the United States. And many areas are already experiencing increased coastal flooding.
You can't stop the water from rising, so your best bet as a homeowner in a high- or low-risk flood zone is to maintain appropriate flood insurance coverage.