Want to buy some Florida swampland? You could, without knowing it. And nobody has to tell you.
Because our state provides no safeguards for people who may unwittingly buy homes that repeatedly flood, the cliché about Florida’s classic real estate scam is truer than ever.
Now consider that of all states, low-lying Florida is at greatest risk for inland flooding and tied with Louisiana for the highest risk of coastal flooding.
Also, the federal flood insurance program paid out $5 billion in claims here between 1978 and 2018.
And with our strengthening storms, rising seas and elevated groundwater tables, it’s only going to get worse.
Consumer protection is needed. Change is needed. When the Legislature convenes its annual session in January, someone must stand up for unsuspecting home buyers.
Florida isn’t the only state where sellers can duck telling buyers about homes that repeatedly flood. But ours is the largest of the 21 states that lack such safeguards, the Natural Resources Defense Council says. The NRDC report, How States Stack Up on Flood Disclosure, gives us a big fat F for leaving consumers “greatly disadvantaged.”
Texas recently became the latest to act, following the catastrophic flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey. It now requires a “Seller’s Disclosure Notice” that addresses a home’s history of flooding, water penetration and whether it sits in a 100-year floodplain.
If Texas can do it, so can Florida. Where there’s a will, there’s a way to overcome the resistance of Realtors and development interests.
After all, people on both sides of the aisle agree disclosure is the right thing to do. According to a national survey by Pew Charitable Trusts, three-fourths of Americans believe sellers should be required to reveal a home’s flood history.
Even the insurance industry, a lobbying powerhouse in Tallahassee, supports disclosure. Given that, its lobbyists should push to make reform happen. For if any industry needs a dose of good will these days, it’s insurance. The business sports a monstrous black eye from inexcusable delays in processing damage claims from desperate victims of Hurricane Michael.
In the meantime, buyers should be on guard and hire a licensed expert to search for flood clues, Guy McClurkan, chief operating officer of the Federal Association for Insurance Reform, suggests in Insurance Journal.
“Without proper disclosure, families can underestimate risk and make the potentially tragic error of underinsuring or neglecting to insure their home against flooding. So, if there’s a disaster, they are often left short, looking to the government for financial assistance, which may not exist or be woefully inadequate.”
The NRDC’s state-by-state report notes that Florida real estate agents offer disclosure forms for sellers to give buyers, but it’s strictly voluntary.
The form reads: “When evaluating this property for purchase, you should consult with one or more flood insurance carriers to learn the flood risk for this property, investigate the availability of flood insurance and determine the current and future anticipated cost of flood insurance.”
Great. Go hire an expert. That’s no help.
It’s time for the Legislature to follow the lead of Texas and its coastal neighbors — Louisiana and Mississippi — which earned A grades from the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Florida lawmakers should take the simple and straightforward step of requiring sellers to disclose a home’s flood history.
Refusing to act only perpetuates the nation’s oldest real estate scam.
This editorial is part of “The Invading Sea”collaboration of four South Florida media organizations — the Miami Herald, the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Palm Beach Post and WLRN Public Media.