Here Come the Floodplains

By FOCUS, A Leonine Business

Americans have experienced an unprecedented number of heavy rain events this year due to the warming atmosphere, exposing major flaws in the country’s flood mapping. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration identified three “1,000-year rainfall events” in August alone. California, Illinois and Texas all reported rainfall events that were given a one in 1,000 chance of happening due to their magnitude. Underestimated flood risks due to poorly identified floodplains and flood hazard areas can lead many homeowners to ignore buying flood insurance. The National Resource Defense Council reports that more than one-third of states have no statutory or regulatory requirement that requires sellers to disclose property flood risks or past flood damages to potential buyers. The undeniable uptick in flooding has triggered states to review property insurance regulation, specifically disclosure laws, in preparation for inevitable future events.

Florida is getting pummeled this hurricane season and is currently under another State of Emergency for Tropical Storm Nicole. The Category-1 storm reached the state’s eastern beaches last week, says The Washington Post, reflooding parts of the state still recovering from Category-4 Hurricane Ian last month. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and state legislators have agreed to hold a special session November 22 to provide property tax rebates to areas affected by Hurricane Ian, and to address the state’s deteriorating property insurance market. The Republican-controlled legislature already held a special session on property insurance back in May and passed legislation to alleviate the state’s insurance crisis. Additionally, a ballot initiative in the general election would have authorized the state legislature to pass laws from prohibiting flood resistance improvements made to a home from being considered when determining a property’s assessed value for property taxes. However, it only earned 57.2 percent of the vote, falling just shy of the 60 percent needed to approve amendments to the Florida Constitution, reports the Florida Phoenix. Governor DeSantis has yet to offer specifics on what policy measures could be considered in the upcoming special session, but the Insurance Journal reports uninsured flood losses from Hurricane Ian are projected to be $1.6 billion and the toll from Tropical Storm Nicole is still being calculated.

Further up the east coast, a bill introduced in the New Jersey Senate would require landlords to notify tenants whether a rental property has been or could be affected by flooding. Landlords and realtors would have to notify potential buyers or renters if a property is in a flood zone and if flood insurance is mandatory. As reported by the Patch, the Senate bill notes that properties in coastal and riverine areas may be subject to increased risk of flooding over time due to rising sea levels and extreme storms caused by climate change. The legislation was unanimously approved by the Senate Environment and Energy Committee in October. Also, in New York, Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the construction of a $3.2 million flood resiliency project that offers climate resilient upgrades to flood-prone communities in the state.

The rising cost of climate change is already heavily slated for the 2023 legislative session, and FOCUS will continue to monitor state legislative developments on floodplains and flood hazard areas.