Through the state’s first flooding disclosure bill, buyers could learn if the property they’re considering has been the focus of any flood insurance claims or flood-damage federal aid.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida has more homes at risk of flooding than anywhere else in the nation, yet until this week, it was one of a handful of states that didn’t require sellers to tell buyers if the property had previously flooded.

That changed when the Florida legislature passed the first flood disclosure bill in state history. If signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis, it would reveal some — but not all — flood risks of a potential home. Buyers would be able to find out if the property they’re considering has made any flood insurance claims or received any federal aid for flood damage.

Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, D-Parkland, who sponsored the House version of the bill, called it an important educational effort for all Floridians, especially newcomers to the state. She said she was pleased that the bill received bipartisan, unanimous support after years of similar flood disclosure bills stalling out in the legislative.

“It shows that people are paying attention and resilience, flooding, climate change are all things that you can’t ignore in the state of Florida,” Hunschofsky said.

Currently, Florida does not explicitly require sellers to tell buyers about the flood history or flood risk of their property in the same way it requires disclosures about sinkholes or lead paint. Instead, sellers have a catchall on the disclosure for anything else important buyers should know, and in recent years, they’ve had the option to fill out a voluntary flood disclosure form.

Critics say this often leaves buyers in the dark. And suing someone for lying on the disclosure form doesn’t always work out.

A woman in Palm Beach won her suit against the couple who sold her a house with a history of flooding while lying on the disclosure form and saying it hadn’t, but the couple and the real estate company that handled the sale filed for bankruptcy before she collected her winnings.

This bill was also supported by Florida Realtors, the state association for an industry that has historically been seen as opposed to flood disclosure. Trey Goldman, the group’s legislative counsel, said disclosure seemed “inevitable” in Florida and called the bill a win for consumers and the Realtors he represents.

“Florida is a big, crowded state. It has weather, it’s severe, it’s frequent. What we were hoping to do is give buyers info in a way that’s meaningful and allows them to make informed decisions while at the same time reducing later claims of misrepresentation,” he said.

But the bill, although groundbreaking for Florida, is still much weaker than its counterparts in other states like Texas. And in the final weeks of legislative session, it was severely weakened. Questions about whether a property had ever been damaged in a flood or whether the property had a flood insurance policy were slashed.

That leaves plenty of loopholes for a seller hoping to avoid revealing information about a property that could sink its value.

Advocates say they hope to strengthen the bill next session, but count its passage as a win nonetheless. If signed by the governor, it would kick in October 1.

“This is the first step Florida has taken and it should be praised because that’s a big deal. But there’s definitely more to do,” said Rachel Rhode, the climate resilient coastal and watersheds manager for the Environmental Defense Fund, which helped support the bill.

Rhode said the rollout of this new mandatory disclosure will help determine if its actually an effective tool for helping Floridians choose less flood-prone places to live. The bill says the disclosure must be provided to a seller “at or before the sales contract is executed,” which leaves wiggle room.

The best-case scenario, Rhode said, is that buyers see this form as early as possible and it sparks more questions about what kind of flooding they could expect in their new home.

“Over the next year or so we’re really going to see an uptick of folks actually understanding and really looking into the flood risk of their property,” she said. “It’s the first step to getting Florida used to a flood disclosure.”

© 2024 Miami Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Author: amyc