A new Texas law taking effect Sunday requires home sellers to declare whether the property is at risk of flooding, a response to the number of homes that experienced catastrophic flooding during Hurricane Harvey.
It is a reasonable requirement, just as home sellers must inform potential buyers if termites have ever feasted on the structure’s infrastructure. Transparency is a good rule for any transactions.
SB 339, sponsored by state Sen. Joan Huffman of Houston, whose district includes a swath of southern Brazoria County, does not offer foolproof protection, however.
The new law doesn’t start the disclosure requirement from scratch; it actually expands requirements that were in place during Harvey but didn’t go far enough in the eyes of state leaders.
Before Gov. Greg Abbott signed SB 339, the law required potential buyers be told if a home sat in a 100-year floodplain, meaning it had a 1 percent chance of flooding every year. The new law expands that disclosure to include homes sitting in a 500-year floodplain, a flood pool, in or near a reservoir, and whether the home has flooded before.
For a homeowner in Bar X Ranch or Holiday Lakes, for instance, those declarations seem obvious. But to a property owner in Sweeny, who told us in 2017 that their home hadn’t flooded in the 35 years they had lived in it, the requirement is less clear.
Data from Houston Public works shared by the Texas Tribune demonstrates the problem. Of the roughly 110,000-plus Harris County homes flooded during Harvey, 24,000 were in the 100-year floodplain and 22,000 in the 500-year floodplain — 65,000 were outside any designated floodplains.
Relying on floodplains is an issue in itself given the manner in which federal maps are updated, which is not nearly often enough. They also don’t consider land development, rainfall or changing weather patterns, all of which were factors in Harvey-fueled flooding.
There also is the stipulation that not all home sellers are aware of a property’s flood risk. If a buyer claims the seller didn’t disclose a flood risk, it is up to the buyer to prove the seller knowingly withheld the information to win in court.
What then should a home buyer do to protect themselves from flooding during the next Hurricane Allison, Harvey or other mass rainfall event? Buy flood insurance.
Experts who have studied the SB 339 have found more homeowners insuring their properties against flooding to be one of the potential benefits of the law, according to the Tribune. Too many people fail to understand the necessity of flood-specific policies, believing their homeowners or windstorm policies offer all the protection they need.
“The Texas Windstorm Insurance Agency is just windstorm insurance, but doesn’t protect flooding,” Mark Hanna, public relations manager for the Insurance Council of Texas told us earlier this week. “It protects your home from wind-driven rain. But people living along the Texas coast need three insurance policies — flood insurance, a TWIA policy and a basic homeowner policy.”
Hanna also mentioned that in the year after Harvey, hundreds of thousands of more flood policies were sold in Texas, but complacency has settled in since and the number of flood-insured properties is declining.
All of these elements — including disclosure and insurance — are important for Texas property owners to rebuild after a catastrophic flood event. The first step is understanding the risk, and being a well-informed homeowner is the best protection.