- Wild Florida!
We’re one of 21 states that don’t require disclosure, no matter how many times a house floods
Whenever a hurricane threatens to slam into someplace near me in Florida, there’s one thing I do before I start packing to evacuate: I call my mom in Pensacola.
She’s a retired bookkeeper, not a meteorologist. But she’s been carefully plotting the path of hurricanes across the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico for more than 60 years. In that time, she’s developed what Liam Neeson might call “a particular set of skills.”
She knows her way around the cone of uncertainty and can easily sort through spaghetti models (with or without Ragu). I tend to trust her predictions more than I do the ones from the Weather Channel.
So when Hurricane Ian seemed be drawing a bead on Tampa Bay last week, I called her up. She said, “This one feels like another Charley.”
She turned out to be 100 percent correct. Just like Hurricane Charley did 18 years ago, Ian blew ashore well south of Tampa Bay. It hit the island of Cayo Costa, just west of Ft. Myers, then tore through Lee County.
Watching video of Ian’s horrific winds and storm surge ripping through heavily developed, low-lying places like Fort Myers Beach, Matlacha, Cape Coral, Estero, Bonita Springs and Sanibel, I wondered how many of those homes had survived Charley back in 2004.
I wondered how many had filled up with water and then emptied out to become a magnet for mold. I wondered how many current residents had unknowingly bought one of those houses that had flooded in 2004, not realizing the same thing could – and would — happen to them.
Turns out, nobody knows.
That’s because Florida is one of 21 states that does not require home sellers to notify their buyers that the house has flooded before.
In other words, if your home flooded during Hurricane Ian last week, you could dry it out and sell it and never say a word to the buyer about what happened. It’s perfectly legal.
Even my storm-savvy mom was startled to hear about that. She said, and I quote, “What?!”
Here’s why that lack of disclosure is important:
“A home that flooded before is far more likely to flood again,” explained Rob Moore, director of the water and climate team at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that’s been sounding the alarm about this issue since it issued a report about it in 2017.
This is a growing concern as climate change has begun to push storm surges like the one from Ian further and further inland, particularly in areas where state and local government have approved development in flood-prone areas.
Between 1978 and 2017, more than 30,000 properties nationwide have flooded so often they’ve been designated “severe repetitive loss properties” under the National Flood Insurance Program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to the NRDC’s report.
“On average,” the report noted, “these properties flooded five times every 2 to 3 years. Some of the most affected properties have flooded more than 30 times.”
A 2017 study found that in Florida’s 12 most populous counties, more than 15,000 properties met that description. Those properties were responsible for nearly 40,000 flood claims.
I asked FEMA how many of its repeatedly flooded homes were found in Lee County prior to Hurricane Ian making landfall there. The answer: 870.
That’s an awful lot of soggy real estate costing us taxpayers money, folks.
And bear in mind that the flooding from the storm wasn’t limited to Lee. There were floods in inland areas, all the way over on the east coast and down in the Keys. In one flood-prone Key Largo neighborhood, crocodiles (not alligators) were spotted swimming in the streets.
Yet, CBS News reported recently, as Florida’s population has skyrocketed over the past 30 years, “less than 1 in 5 of the state’s 10 million homes has flood insurance.” If people knew how often our houses wind up literally, and not just figuratively, underwater, they would change their ways.
Somebody in Florida tried to fix this obvious problem with the lack of flooding disclosure.
You don’t have to be my hurricane-predicting mom to predict how that worked out.
The Andrew angle
In 1992, Hurricane Andrew crashed across Miami-Dade County with winds so fierce they blew the measuring instruments off the National Hurricane Center. As a result, the experts took a decade to figure out that it was a Category 5 storm.
The hustlers and scam artists moved a lot faster on working their Andrew angles.
Less than a day after Andrew’s passage, the first street vendors showed up selling T-shirts with the slogan “I Survived Andrew” (I know because I bought one). Soon there were scammers filing phony damage claims and crooked contractors collecting deposits and then disappearing without doing any work.
When then-Gov. Lawton Chiles toured the area on the one-year anniversary, one woman told him, “My contractor was on ‘America’s Most Wanted’ last night.”
But some of the biggest crooks were the banks and insurance companies squeezing Andrew’s victims for their last few pennies. Annette Taddeo saw that first-hand.
Then 25, Taddeo and her parents – recent migrants from Colombia – survived the storm but saw it nearly destroy their home with both wind and storm surge.
“It flooded up to their waist in water from the bay,” she said.
Taddeo bought an RV in Alabama and drove it down to park in her parents’ driveway. The family lived in the RV for six months while her parents fought with the banks and insurance company to rebuild their house, she told me. It was hardly a cushy existence.
“There was no place around there to rent, and no electricity for a really long time and no water,” she said. “And this was before cell phones.”
Banks kept selling and reselling their mortgage, she said, and meanwhile one of them decided to stop making payments on the insurance without telling her parents. They didn’t know until the policy was canceled.
As a result, Taddeo – now a Democratic state senator who’s running for Congress – says she has a keen interest in hurricanes, homeownership and insurance companies. In fact, she told me, the first bill she sponsored that passed the Legislature required sellers of hurricane insurance to disclose to buyers that their policies don’t cover flooding.
In 2020, Taddeo filed Senate Bill 1474, which would have fixed Florida’s glaring problem with homebuyers not being told they’re buying a previously flooded house. Here’s what it said:
“Before executing a contract for sale, a seller of real property shall disclose to a prospective purchaser…if the real property has ever suffered water damage or moisture-related damage that was caused by a natural flood event, if the property has ever had standing water in the front, rear, or side yards for more than 48 hours following a heavy rain (or) if any portion of the property is currently located in or near a Federal Emergency Management Agency-designated flood hazard zone.”
Seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it?
Another Democratic senator, Bobby Powell of Palm Beach County, proposed a similar bill that year, SB1842. Two bills should give the sponsors twice the chances of getting something passed, wouldn’t it?
Both bills were referred to the Banking and Insurance Committee. Both of them died. there. They didn’t even get a hearing from the committee.
Visual inspections only
I asked Taddeo what happened to SB 1474.
“The problem, as with everything in Florida, is that for certain powerful interests, this is something they’d rather not have to do,” Taddeo said.
Did I mention that the chairman of the committee that year was a Panhandle Republican named Doug Broxson, who works in the real estate and insurance business? He’s not a big fan of government regulations, as you might guess.
(The Senate president who picked Broxson to chair that committee was a Bradenton lawyer named Bill Galvano. His top priority in 2020 was shoving a trio of expensive, unnecessary and previously rejected toll roads down everyone’s throat to benefit campaign contributors.)
I called up Sen. Broxson to ask him about the failure of Taddeo’s bill. He blamed her, saying she had failed to “work the bill,” by contacting the chair and the members to ask for a hearing.
“Bills that are worked by the members usually have a chance of being heard,” he said. He also pointed out that she had no House companion bill. Those bills seldom if ever get a hearing, he said.
Anyway, Broxson assured me, her bill wasn’t really necessary. A home inspection prior to closing on the sale would catch any flaws left by a flood, he said. Thus, there was no problem with unwitting buyers.
“I believe the marketplace has kind of taken care of it,” the senator said.
Curious if that could be true, I phoned the Home Inspector Association of South Florida, and wound up talking to Brendan Haggerty, their secretary, former president and a home inspector for the past 15 years. I caught him while he was trying to salvage a home he owns in Cape Coral which had been – you guessed it – flooded.
“Florida’s a non-disclosure state,” Haggerty told me, dismissing what Broxson had said. “Home inspectors are only required to do a visual inspection. So if there’s a hidden defect because of flooding or some other disaster, we don’t know that.”
Sellers do have to fill out a disclosure form, he said. When I asked Haggerty about that, the veteran inspector said, “Every realtor knows that the disclosure form is as valuable as the paper it’s printed on.”
A lot of sellers fudge their answers, fearing they’d scare buyers away by being too honest, he said. Seldom if ever do they get caught, and then any penalty depends on the homeowner’s willingness to sue.
After seeing what happened to her disclosure bill in 2020, Taddeo didn’t file it again. Why bang your head against a locked door?
Still, she said, “Florida needs it more than anybody, because we are the most flood-prone state in the country.”
F is for Florida
When I asked Taddeo what prompted her to file that flooding disclosure bill in 2020, she gave me a surprising answer: Texas did it.
In 2017, Hurricane Harvey shocked a lot of Houston residents by flooding 96,000 homes, including a gracious plenty that they had thought were safe. Turns out a lot of them had been flooded before, but nobody had told the buyers. (Sound familiar?)
Afterward, a lot of the houses that had flooded were suddenly for sale, cheap. And the word “waterlogged” was, as Gene Autry might put it, seldom heard as a discouraging word.
“People were getting stuck with these houses that everybody knew had flooded during Hurricane Harvey — everybody except the buyers,” said Moore of the NRDC.
In 2019, the Texas Legislature passed a bill that requires homeowners to disclose if their properties lie in a flood-prone area or have flooded before. Gov. Greg “I’d Rather Be Busing Migrants to Washington” Abbott signed it, even though it had nothing to do with restricting abortion.
I have to admit, hearing that Texas is more progressive than some other states, including our own, gave me a disorienting feeling. I nearly fell out of my chair when Moore told me that, when the NRDC graded the states on this issue, Texas got an A.
But not us.
“Florida? Oh, they’re right there at the bottom,” Moore said. “F for Florida.”
Heckuva job, Ronnie
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been doing a heckuva job dealing with Ian, just like George W. Bush’s FEMA boss, Michael “Brownie” Brown, did with Katrina.
DeSantis wore his own reelection campaign gear to view the disaster, instead of something with a state insignia, as previous governors have done. Then he complained on Sean Hannity’s TV show about other people politicizing the disaster.
He also donned a pair of pristine white work boots, which led to lots of jokes comparing him to Nancy Sinatra, Luke Skywalker and the Green M&M. (White rubber work boots are commonly worn by shrimpers and other blue-collar folks who want to keep their feet clean and dry, but rarely do they gleam as DeSantis’ pair did.)
His tour of flooding in Arcadia interrupted an ongoing relief operation there for several hours. Then he claimed that interruption had never happened because he was “the first one to show up in DeSoto (County) and help those people.”
More importantly, there were complaints about how he was so busy doing battle with woke math and critical race theory that he had failed to deal with our property insurance crisis. Florida homeowners were already facing the highest property insurance rates in the country. Thanks to Ian, they’re sure to go up even more.
I expect we will see the Legislature begin offering a lot of post-Ian bills soon, some of which may involve insurance. Given the lawmakers’ past performance, those bills are more likely to protect big-money developers and powerful utilities than help homebuyers.
Wouldn’t it be nice to see the governor redeem himself by proposing a bill like Taddeo’s? Something that offers better protection for Florida homebuyers, instead of targeting Venezuelan refugees or Orlando theme parks?
I’ve been watching the antics of Florida politicians from both parties since the 1970s. I’ve developed my own particular set of skills about predicting their behavior.
I would say that the chances of our own-the-libs-uber-alles governor doing the right thing on this issue falls squarely inside the cone of near impossibility.
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Do you have to disclose if a house has flooded in Florida? ›
"In the state of Florida, there's no statutory or regulatory requirement that a seller disclose to a homebuyer previous flood damage on a property.Do property values go down after a hurricane? ›
The general view is that real estate values will drop post the hurricane.” Still reeling from the effects of the catastrophe, Cohn said insurers and mortgage firms were now fully involved in assessing damages, pointing out that Fort Myers in Lee County, where most of the deaths occurred, had been “decimated”.Does Florida have flood insurance? ›
Yes! Everyone in Florida is eligible for flood coverage as everyone lives in a flood zone. Qualifying for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) coverage will depend on your flood zone and community where the property is located.Can flooding cause house to collapse? ›
Foundation pilings deep in the ground aren't safe from rapid flood waters either. As the water rushes in, it can create instability that allows pilings to shift or even break. Any movement of your home's foundation puts the entire house at risk of collapse.What is flooded disclosure? ›
Flood disclosure laws require sellers to provide written disclosure of any flooding or water damage they are aware of. This disclosure might also denote whether the buyers will be required to carry a flood insurance policy.Can you sell a house that has been flooded? ›
There really is no way around it: if your home has flooded, you are obliged to make potential buyers aware. It may put them off – and you may need to significantly reduce your asking price to tempt them back – but, in the long term, it is the only safe, legal and ethical path you can take.Do natural disasters affect housing prices? ›
Natural disasters often impact supply chains and this is why new home construction becomes affected. Prices will typically rise and construction will come to a standstill until supply chains come back to normal. Home prices in areas not affected by a natural disaster will typically rise as well.Has there ever been a storm Ian? ›
Tropical Storm Ian (2016) – no threat to land. Hurricane Ian (2022) – destructive Category 4 hurricane, made landfall in western Cuba, southwestern Florida and in South Carolina.How do hurricanes affect property? ›
Storm surge and inland flooding can also cause catastrophic damage. Overland surge and flooding may cause a building or other structure to collapse due to the hydrodynamic forces caused by the moving water, particularly when waves are present.What is average cost of flood insurance in Florida? ›
The average cost of flood insurance in Florida in 2022 is $629 a year, which is $142 less than the national average. If you live in an area prone to flooding, your flood insurance rate will probably be higher than the average rate in Florida.
How does FEMA determine payout? ›
Your FEMA payment is calculated based on your insurance coverage and the damages to your property. FEMA releases the average claims paid for each year. You qualify for FEMA assistance if you're in an area where an official emergency has been declared.How much does flood insurance cover in Florida? ›
What Does Flood Insurance Cover? The standard NFIP policy provides replacement cost coverage capped at $250,000 for damage to the structure of the home and actual cash value coverage capped at $100,000 for loss of personal possessions.Does flooding your house affect your house value? ›
How Much Does Flooding Devalue a House? Disclosing the flood risk of a property already decreases its value by approximately 4%. Homes lose significant potential home value following flooding based on what their value could be over time if there had not been a flood.Can a house on a slab flood? ›
Flooding is a concern no matter what type of foundation you have under your home. However, as the simplest and sturdiest foundation type, slab foundations are mostly unaffected by flood waters.How do you repair a house after a flood? ›
- Call Your Insurance Company. Your first call should be to your insurance company. ...
- Hire a Clean Up Company. ...
- Find a Contractor. ...
- Hire a Licensed Electrical Contractor. ...
- Hire an HVAC Specialist. ...
- Replace Flooring. ...
- Open Up Your Walls. ...
- Remove Drywall.
Well, you can expect the value of a flooded property to fall by around a fifth, especially if the property has been hit more than once. In some areas, properties have been known to go on the market for as low as 60% of previous property values.Can I find out if a property has been flooded? ›
Alternatively, you can get in touch with the local council for the details of your local flood authority or you can contact your local Internal Drainage Board, the public body that manages water levels in your area.What is flood certificate in US mortgage? ›
Flood certification (also known as a flood determination and certification) is a document issued to certify whether a property is located in a flood zone based on FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Association) flood maps.How do I know if I need flood insurance in Florida? ›
If you own a property in a high-risk zone and have a federally backed mortgage, you are required to purchase flood insurance as a condition of that loan.What are the different flood zones in Florida? ›
|IN||100-year floodplain, no BFEs determined.|
|B, X500||500-year floodplain (0.2% annual chance of flooding)|
|C, X||Outside 100-year and 500-year floodplain.|
|D, UNDES||Possible but undetermined flood hazards.|
What is the average cost of hurricane insurance in Florida? ›
However, the average cost of homeowners insurance in Florida is $1,951 and the average cost of flood insurance is $723, according to Bankrate. Therefore, on average, Florida homeowners pay approximately $2,674 per year in premiums to protect against hurricane damage.Is hurricane insurance required in Florida? ›
It is not a legal requirement for homeowners to have windstorm insurance in Florida, as homeowners insurance usually covers damage caused by strong winds.