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Opinion: Congress should require disclosure of past flooding in homes

Andrea Rice (PROVIDED)

Home ownership has been a hallmark of the American dream for decades. It is a sad fact that for many, the dream of owning a home often meets a rocky reality. For first-time buyers and long time owners alike, the process of looking for a new house is oftentimes tricky, and even downright bothersome. As licensed real estate agents, we work alongside people in trying to find a livable, affordable home. Multitudes of state and local laws sometimes work against home-buyers rather than helping them, especially when it comes to what is required to be disclosed. Unfortunately, this is also the case in the lack of consistent policy when it comes to requiring sellers to disclose any history of previous flooding in a home. 

Licensed real estate agents hold that buyers should be well-informed of any event or disruption that might affect the price of the house, including whether a home has suffered from flooding in the past. However, there is currently no national policy in place that requires sellers to disclose that a house has been flooded in the past—whether by a natural disaster or other means. What this means is that some buyers have to invest significant time into ascertaining whether a house has been flooded before. 

The purchase of a house, any house, is a significant financial investment. Buyers should be made well-aware of any and all past issues with flooding so they can make a well-informed purchasing decision and have full access to the American dream. There are tools available to help ascertain whether a house is at risk for flooding. FEMA allows buyers to search a property and to see whether it is in or near a flood zone. However, these risk assessment factors often do not give a complete picture of all of the flooding dangers that might exist. 

According to an NPR article, 20 states do not have laws in place that mandate disclosure of past floods to most sellers. There are times where buyers will purchase a home and, upon further inspection, discover that the home had been flooded before, information that the seller did not disclose. This should not happen. When a family buys a home, they want to be fully aware of the risks of the area, including history of flooding—you don’t want to be in the dark about these kinds of dangers as they represent a potential risk to your own physical and financial safety.

It is clear that there is a glaring gap in the real estate laws of our country. This policy inconsistency exists across states, and affects the flow of interstate commerce and business. That is why I am calling on Congress to pass legislation that mandates disclosure of a house’s flooding history across the country. This includes our federal delegation in the Missouri House including Ann Wagner, Blaine Luetkemeyer and Roy Blunt. The legislation can be passed independently, or as part of the renewal of the National Flood Insurance Program, but this is a measure that requires swift action. The dream of responsible home ownership should be protected, and buyers should have a right to know the history of their home.