LEE COUNTY, Fla. — Here’s something to consider if you’re looking to buy a new home especially as we head into hurricane season where our risk of flooding increases: Florida law does not require sellers to disclose their homes’ flooding history.
We’ve been speaking with Joe Scata, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, to find out more for you.
Here is some of the transcript (lightly edited for brevity and clarity) of our conversation about what many see as a glaring gap in Florida’s real estate law.
JOE SCATA/NATRUAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL: Florida does not statutory or regulatory requirement that a seller discloses to a potential buyer a home's flood risk or past flood history. And given the lack of the statutory or regulatory requirement, that can leave buyers in the dark about the flood risk they could be facing when they're purchasing their potential dream home.
WFTX: What is your option if you're a home buyer in Florida if the person that's selling to you is not bound by law to disclose that it might have a flood history?
JOE SCATA/NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL: I think one of the best things a potential buyer can do is ask questions of the seller. To ask questions about flooding on the property, flooding near the property. The Florida Realtors Association has a really good voluntary disclosure form that asks great questions about past flood histories, that asks questions about whether the property is in a FEMA-designated flood zone. and whether flood insurance is required for that property. If I were a buyer, I'd be asking the seller to provide that form.>
WFTX: It caught (our) attention when you said it's a voluntary disclosure form because even the realtor might not know.
JOE SCATA/NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL: I think the voluntary form because it's run by the Florida Realtors Association, if you have a good realtor, they should be having that form in place. But as you pointed out, there is no statutory or regulatory requirement in Florida for the seller to disclose flood risk to a buyer.
WFTX: And it sounds like our flood risk is increasing in Florida.
JOE SCATA/NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL: Yes, given climate change and the impacts of sea-level rise, flood risk in Florida overall is increasing. You can see that in past disaster declarations that have occurred, the recent hurricanes, so flood risk is definitely increasing in this state.
WFTX: It seems like flooding is becoming more expensive when the damage does happen.
JOE SCATA/NATIURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL: Yes, I think that given that flooding is becoming more frequent and more severe there is a potential for greater damage to occur. This is why it's important for potential home buyers to know that risk before they get into making what's often one of the biggest investments of their lives.
WFTX: What do you think Florida needs for people who are buying homes so they really know the flood risk?
JOE SCATA/NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL: I think Florida needs to follow the lead of Texas. After Hurricane Harvey, they passed a really strong disclosure law that has a mandatory form that asks questions about whether a property has flooded in the past, the extent of flooding, the damages, whether a home is actually required to have flood insurance, and whether the home was a recipient of federal grant aid before due to flooding disaster.