As climate risks increase, New York could require flood disclosures in home sales
Alan Oligario’s home is prone to flooding — and he wishes someone had told him before he bought it.
His initial flood came in the first year after he bought the house in Highland Falls, New York. The second came about a decade later. The third occurred in July when torrential rains drenched the region and he woke up to water about knee deep in his home.
“If we were made aware, or if our neighbors were made aware of the flooding situation, some things might have been done differently,” said Oligario, adding that he wouldn’t have bought his home or at least would have sprung for flood insurance if he had known.
A bill in New York could soon require people selling their homes to disclose whether their properties have been flooded or are at risk for future flooding — a move supporters argue is necessary as rising sea levels and intense storms with climate change lead to more flooding in the state.
State lawmakers passed the proposal earlier this year and it now awaits a signature from Democratic New York Gov. Kathy Hochul.
The legislation comes as more counties in New York experience flooding and inland areas that have been considered safe from such events have become more vulnerable to floods, with recent storms in the region driving urgency for the bill’s backers.
“The growing threat and presence of inland flooding, like what we saw during (Hurricane) Ida or like what was on display in the Hudson Valley, is a really major factor for why flood disclosure is such an important bill,” said Tyler Taba, policy manager for The Waterfront Alliance, an advocacy group that supported the proposal in New York.
“We’re seeing flooding happen outside the floodplain so much more frequently, and it’s really hard to know if the property you’re looking at is at risk of flooding, especially if it’s away from the water,” he said.
The Northeast is experiencing the greatest increase in extreme rainfall of any region in the U.S., according to a National Climate Assessment report, and a rate of sea-level rise that’s three times greater than the global average. The region is also projected to see more frequent and intense storm surge events in coming years.
The bill would close a loophole in state law that has allowed sellers to pay a $500 fee to avoid disclosing flood risk and other known property conditions such as lead paint and asbestos. It would also require sellers to disclose additional information about flooding in their properties, such as whether the property is in a flood hazard area and if any flood insurance claims have been filed.
New York already has a similar law in place for rental properties that took effect this year. If signed by Hochul, the current bill would make the state at least the 30th in the country to require flood disclosures during home sales.
Brian Fredrickson, another homeowner in Highland Falls, a village north of New York City on the Hudson River at an elevation of 144 feet (44 meters), said his home was also flooded during heavy rains in July, just about a year after he bought the place.
He said inspections during the sale process showed his cellar had some minor signs of water damage due to groundwater seeping in, but he wasn’t aware of the full flooding history of his property, and that a nearby retaining wall meant to keep water at bay had been damaged in a storm about a decade ago.
“As far as the history of the flooding, that’s not disclosed, nor do they have to,” said Fredrickson.
Bill sponsor Assemblymember Robert Carroll said homebuyers are generally only told about flood risks if they are purchasing a property in a 100-year floodplain designated by federal emergency management officials, which he said potentially doesn’t capture the current reality of flood risks.
“There’s been a flood designated in every single county in New York in the last 10 years,” he said. “Lots of those floods have not been in floodplains and so this will make sure that ... buyers are afforded the knowledge that the seller has.”
A spokesperson for Hochul said it is unclear when the governor would sign the bill into law.