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Lawmakers pass flood disclosure requirements for home sellers, landlords

 An excavator digs out access to a manufactured home
Natalie Williams
An excavator digs out access to a manufactured home that was flooded in Berlin on Thursday, July 13, 2023.

This story, by Report for America corps member Carly Berlin, was produced through a partnership between VTDigger and Vermont Public.

A few years ago, when Corinne Cooper was considering leasing a lot at a manufactured home park in Berlin, she had some sense that the park had experienced minor flooding in the past. But, she said, she didn’t receive much information from the property owner when she asked if he had done anything to mitigate the risk.

“I was naive enough to think, ‘Well, you know, I’m only planning on being there two or three years,’” she said. Within that window, floodwaters destroyed her home, when the Stevens Branch of the Winooski River inundated the park last July.

In response to last year’s widespread flooding, Vermont lawmakers have passed new measures intended to give prospective homebuyers, renters and manufactured home purchasers more information about flood risk when looking for their next home.

Vermont now joins a growing list of states that mandate flood risk disclosure for real estate transactions, as climate change fuels more extreme weather.

The new requirements have not yet been signed into law by Gov. Phil Scott, and are part of a sweeping land use and housing reform bill that the Republican governor has suggested he may veto. Yet the flood disclosure measures proved relatively uncontroversial throughout this year’s legislative session.

Rep. Tom Stevens, D-Waterbury, one of the authors of the legislation, represents a town that is no stranger to floods. In the intervening years between Tropical Storm Irene’s destruction in 2011 and the historic floods of 2023, “there were a number of people who bought homes that had no idea that they were in a flood zone,” Stevens said.

“Those communities who were affected felt like this was something that was missing from statute,” he added.

The new measures require the seller of a property to tell a buyer whether the building is in a high or moderate-risk flood zone mapped by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The seller must also disclose whether the property flooded while they owned it — and if it faced damage from flood-related erosion or a landslide, issues that arose after last summer’s floods. Sellers will also need to reveal whether or not they maintain flood insurance on the property. And if a seller fails to tell the buyer any of this information, the legislation lays out a clear path for recourse.

Prospective buyers already have some avenues to learn about flood risk. When seeking to buy a home within FEMA’s so-called 100-year floodplain, purchasers pursuing a federally-backed mortgage will already learn from their lender that federal law requires them to take out a flood insurance policy. And the new flood disclosure requirements augment existing rules realtors follow to relay potential hazards to buyers.

Peter Tucker, a lobbyist for the Vermont Association of Realtors, previously told VTDigger/Vermont Public that he supported the proposed disclosure measures but found them somewhat redundant, given existing realtors’ rules. Now, though, he recognizes that for buyers paying for property in cash — or the estimated 30-40% of the market not working with a realtor — the disclosure law will provide information they may not get elsewhere.

“I think it becomes more important when you consider the entire marketplace,” he said.

That information may help homeowners better prepare for future flooding. A 2022 FEMA analysis found that states with stronger flood disclosure requirements often have higher rates of residents with flood insurance policies. Without flood insurance, Vermonters are left relying on federal disaster aid to recoup their losses — which rarely pays out as much money.

The bill also requires that landlords disclose whether a rental sits in FEMA’s high-risk flood zone before a tenant signs a lease, and tasks the state Department of Housing and Community Development with creating a model form for property owners to use to convey this risk. The state would need to create a similar notice for lot leases in manufactured home parks. Flood damage to a manufactured home itself would need to be communicated to a buyer, too.

Cooper sees flood risk disclosure as a step in the right direction. And she hopes people will grasp the gravity of the information when they get it — even if their choices are constrained by Vermont’s acute housing shortage and skyrocketing prices.

“Just because something hasn’t flooded or flooded to a certain degree in the past doesn’t mean that it won’t in the future,” Cooper said. “I’m certainly not wanting anybody else to take those risks.”


Carly covers housing and infrastructure for Vermont Public and VTDigger and is a corps member with the national journalism nonprofit Report for America.
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