New Law to Provide Florida Homebuyers With More Transparency on Flood History

The measure is aimed at educating buyers about the intensifying risks, although there are loopholes.

Share this article

An aerial view of an Orlando neighborhood following Hurricane Ian on Oct. 1, 2022. Credit: Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images
An aerial view of an Orlando neighborhood following Hurricane Ian on Oct. 1, 2022. Credit: Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images

Share this article

ORLANDO, Fla.—For the first time, Florida home sellers will have to disclose certain aspects of a property’s flood history, under legislation Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law this week.

The measure is seen as an important step toward addressing growth and development in risky areas, an issue that has gained prominence since Hurricane Ian dropped historic amounts of rain here in 2022, causing widespread flooding. Ian was the costliest hurricane in state history and third-costliest on record in the United States, after Katrina in 2005 and Harvey in 2017.

Before this law passed, Florida, uniquely vulnerable to sea level rise, precipitation changes and intensifying storms, had been one of 18 states where no flood disclosure was required as part of a home transaction. By 2045, some $26 billion in residential real estate is poised to face chronic flooding, with Miami, the Florida Keys and the Tampa-St. Petersburg area especially at risk, according to the Union for Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group.

Election 2024

Explore the latest news about what’s at stake for the climate during this election season.

“Having the information will help buyers make more informed and better decisions about protecting what is likely to be their single biggest asset, their homes,” said Rachel Cleetus, policy director at the Union for Concerned Scientists. “It is an important moment for home buyers.”

The measure requires home sellers to provide a flood disclosure form “at or before the time the sales contract is executed.” The document must include whether the seller ever has filed an insurance claim or received federal assistance because of flood damage on the property. The document also must include the following statement about flood insurance: “Homeowner’s insurance policies do not include coverage for damage resulting from floods. Buyer is encouraged to discuss the need to purchase separate flood insurance coverage with Buyer’s insurance agent.”

“What we’re hoping is that it also leads elected officials and planners to make better decisions when it comes to expanding development in flood-prone areas,” said Paul Owens, president of 1000 Friends of Florida, an advocacy group focused on smart growth. “Florida is much too lenient on that. We have far too much development in flood-prone areas, which puts people at risk and properties at risk and ends up costing taxpayers huge amounts of money to rebuild.”

The measure could be stronger, he said. It does not require sellers to disclose whether a property is in a flood zone. Another loophole allows for the possibility that while a property may have flooded in the past, the seller did not file an insurance claim or accept federal assistance.

Cleetus pointed out the measure is backward-looking and fails to account for the fact that risks are intensifying as the global climate warms. Sellers also will not have to disclose threats in the surrounding area, like whether a crucial access road is prone to inundation, she said.

“We have far too much development in flood-prone areas, which puts people at risk and properties at risk…”

Bill sponsor Rep. Christine Hunschofsky (D-Coconut Creek) said she expected the Legislature may take up those issues during next year’s session.

“I was just so thrilled that the governor signed it,” she said.

The measure was approved unanimously earlier this spring by the Republican-controlled Legislature and also gained support from the Florida Association of Realtors. It takes effect Oct. 1.

“We were supporters of this bill during the legislative session and are grateful that Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed it into law,” said Trey Goldman, legislative counsel for the Florida Association of Realtors, in a statement provided to Inside Climate News. “The bill not only helps buyers make more informed decisions about properties they are interested in, but it will also help decrease the amount of post-closing disputes that occur.”

Florida home sellers already are required to make other disclosures, like whether lead paint may be present on the property, whether the property may be vulnerable to beach erosion as defined under state regulations or whether an insurance claim ever has been filed over sinkhole damage on the property. Otherwise sellers are not obligated to identify potential defects, and the burden is on the buyer to undertake thorough inspections and make inquiries.

Florida courts have been split on sellers’ responsibility when it comes to flooding. In one case,  the sellers of a home in the east Everglades area of Miami did not disclose that the property flooded annually during the rainy season, and that snakes and alligators gathered there to escape the waters. A court dismissed the case, reasoning the flooding was common knowledge.

This story is funded by readers like you.

Our nonprofit newsroom provides award-winning climate coverage free of charge and advertising. We rely on donations from readers like you to keep going. Please donate now to support our work.

Donate Now

In another case, the sellers of a home in Destin, a beach town on the Panhandle, did not disclose that the property was situated in an area where it was not eligible for flood insurance. A court determined the situation might not be easy for a buyer to understand, and that the sellers should have volunteered the information.

DeSantis, a former Republican presidential candidate who has described himself as “not a global warming person,” signed the measure only a few weeks after finalizing separate legislation that erased several instances of the words “climate change” from the state code. That measure restructured Florida’s fossil fuel-based energy policy around making the energy infrastructure more resilient, and moving the state toward cleaner energy no longer will be a priority.

Hunschofsky said she was not surprised the governor signed the flood disclosure measure.

“I think it’s a very common-sense policy,” she said. “It’s educational and informative. It gives consumers information they need.”

About This Story

Perhaps you noticed: This story, like all the news we publish, is free to read. That’s because Inside Climate News is a 501c3 nonprofit organization. We do not charge a subscription fee, lock our news behind a paywall, or clutter our website with ads. We make our news on climate and the environment freely available to you and anyone who wants it.

That’s not all. We also share our news for free with scores of other media organizations around the country. Many of them can’t afford to do environmental journalism of their own. We’ve built bureaus from coast to coast to report local stories, collaborate with local newsrooms and co-publish articles so that this vital work is shared as widely as possible.

Two of us launched ICN in 2007. Six years later we earned a Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting, and now we run the oldest and largest dedicated climate newsroom in the nation. We tell the story in all its complexity. We hold polluters accountable. We expose environmental injustice. We debunk misinformation. We scrutinize solutions and inspire action.

Donations from readers like you fund every aspect of what we do. If you don’t already, will you support our ongoing work, our reporting on the biggest crisis facing our planet, and help us reach even more readers in more places?

Please take a moment to make a tax-deductible donation. Every one of them makes a difference.

Thank you,

Share this article