By: Christine Zirneklis | November 2022
Rising rents, landlords holding affordable housing hostage and broker fees: it’s tough for renters in New York City right now.
Imagine going through the painful process of moving only to live in a new home that floods, causing costly damage, health risks, and dangerous situations. It’s happened to lots of New Yorkers, especially in strong storms like last summer’s Ida. There hasn’t been a requirement for landlords to tell renters whether the new home they’re moving into is known to flood — until now.
Renters in New York City will finally have information on how their new home has been previously impacted by flooding as they make decisions about where to live. Bill A7876 requires landlords to disclose to renters whether units have been previously flooded and if they’ve been previously damaged by flooding. The bill passed the state assembly and senate this summer, and is anticipated to go into effect in 2023 once it’s signed by the governor. Once it goes into effect, at lease signing renters will receive a document detailing in what ways the apartment or other home has been impacted by flooding in the past (this will look much like the lead paint, asbestos, etc. disclosures renters may have seen before.)
As Tyler Taba, Senior Manager for Climate Policy at Rise to Resilience, a coalition advocating for environmental justice in New York and New Jersey, says “it’s really filling in this gap…there was no previous flood disclosure for renters before this bill.” This is particularly important because there is a “disproportionate gap between homeownership and renting which cuts across class and race.” TK TK white people are TKx more likely to own a home TK, according to the NY Center for Neighborhoods which focused on building homeownership among people of color.
Understanding the risk of flooding is more important than ever because the storms hitting New York City are stronger due to climate change, and the city’s infrastructure is not built to hold that much water. Residents may remember how Ida shut down subways and caused inland flooding and sewer backups miles away from the city’s coastline.
“Once upon a time you might have been able to look at a building and say, that’s probably at risk of flooding – I can see the water and coastline from here,” but now, says Taba, “we’re seeing a lot of inland areas that are flooding who may have felt that they’re out of harm’s way, but are not. And that’s not really going to show up on [FEMA’s] flood map or with the eye test.”
Indeed, even the City’s FloodHelp.ny service doesn’t tell the whole story. You have to check both the FEMA map and the stormwater flooding map to understand your likely risk, and even those are based on models, rather than observations or flood measurements of specific locations across the city.
“It’s important because this disclosure will let folks know that if apartment has flooded 10 times in the last 10 years, so you can really make the decisions about what the costs might be for you moving forward, both the flood insurance costs and the financial burden,” says Taba.
While a move towards transparency, this bill will only apply to renters. There’s still a huge loophole in the flood disclosure law for those buying a home. Right now, someone selling a home can pay a paltry $500 to not disclose the home’s flood history, a drop in the bucket for a transaction that averages $700,000 in the city. Most people continue to make one of the biggest purchases of their life blind to their new home’s flood risk.
And as anyone who’s experienced flooding in their home has likely experienced, the damage caused by flooding is expensive to fix. A new study by Milliman, an actuarial firm, an estimated 6.6% of all homes sold in 2021 have previously flooded, and those who purchase previously flooded homes in New York City can expect to pay between $94,000 in a standard climate scenario or up to $188, 683, in a high climate scenario over the course of a 30 year mortgage — a large expense, especially if unexpected.
Taba says that closing that knowledge gap for homebuyers through a similar flood disclosure to the recently passed bill is among their coalition’s top priorities for 2023.