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Landlords Will Soon Have to Inform Tenants About Flood Risks

To help renters make better-informed choices, leases must disclose a property’s propensity to flood and whether it suffered flood damage in the past.

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Row houses lined a street two blocks away from the beach on West 16th Street in Coney Island on Friday, July 15, 2022.

Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

Starting June 21, rental leases across New York State must include information on whether a property is in a floodplain or has experienced damage due to flooding in the past, along with the typical details about subletting, lead-based paint and security deposits.

The requirement stems from a bill Gov. Kathy Hochul signed last year that aims to provide renters with more transparency before they sign a lease.

The disclosure law could be of particular significance in New York City, where about two-thirds of households rent and developers continue to build housing in floodplains.

Such disclosures would have helped tenants like Sam Reyes, who lives in Hamilton Beach, Queens and who has been renting the first floor of a house with his family for over two years.

The neighborhood, which sits on Jamaica Bay just west of JFK Airport, is plagued monthly by flooding from high tides and was devastated after 2012’s Hurricane Sandy.

Reyes, who works in law enforcement, had previously lived in nearby Ozone Park, which was why he “was so nonchalant” about flooding in Hamilton Beach. 

“I can’t say we were blindsided,” he said.

Still, he figured having a disclosure about flood risks in his lease would have been useful. The property manager of his current place briefly mentioned flooding issues, but otherwise Reyes received no comprehensive information.

“It would’ve definitely helped us prepare,” he said.

The same day Hochul signed the bill, Reyes lost two cars to a flood, the result of high tide taking place during a bomb cyclone.

“The day high tide happened, December 23, the water was up to my third or fourth step,” said Reyes. “I called work to say unless they had a boat to pick me up I had no choice, I couldn’t come in.”

Reyes’ car insurance is bundled with flood insurance, and that covered the vehicle losses. Luckily, the water didn’t make it into his home. He wasn’t sure if his renters insurance included flood insurance. Most policies do not.

In addition to information on flood risks, landlords will also have to notify tenants in their leases that they can purchase flood insurance through FEMA, which would reimburse them for any lost or ruined belongings within the property up to a certain amount.

“New York tenants can now make more informed decisions about where they choose to call home,” said Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal, who sponsored the bill, in a statement. 

‘Pretty Good Indicators’

New York joins states that include California, Oklahoma, Georgia, New Jersey, Indiana, Oregon and Texas in requiring flood disclosures for renters.

“I think it’s information that renters should have access to, particularly since many apartments are in two-family properties, and the apartment is often on the lower level,” said Sandy Krueger, CEO of the Staten Island Board of Realtors.

Leases must indicate whether some or all of the rental property is at risk of taking on water in a 1-in-100-year flood event, which has 1% chance of happening in any given year — as well as a 1-in-500-year flood event, which has a 0.2% chance of occurring. The calculations are based on FEMA’s flood insurance rate maps, which show risk areas. 

But those maps only show risks of coastal flooding — not inland flooding from heavy rains. And they are old; FEMA last updated them in 2007.

The federal agency proposed new maps in 2015, which greatly expanded the areas, but the city under the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio disputed them. Now the city and FEMA are working to create new maps, which are expected to come out in 2027.

Still, one provision of the law could help reflect risks beyond coastal flooding: Landlords must include details on the lease about whether the rental property flooded in the past, as far as they reasonably know — and that flooding could be from rainfall or river overflow.

“Even if FEMA’s maps are outdated, we’ve had Ida and Sandy, so those are pretty good indicators” as to whether a property is flood prone, said Kate Boicourt, director of the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund’s New York-New Jersey Climate Resilient Coasts and Watersheds program. “This is an extra touchpoint we have to let people know of the risks so they can take action.”

Cost and Coverage

Property owners who have federally backed mortgages within the high risk flood zone, as laid out in the 2007 FEMA maps, are required to buy flood insurance to cover damage to their buildings — but renters aren’t. And renters insurance typically does not cover flood-damaged items.

According to FEMA, renters flood insurance can cost as little as $100 per year. The premium is determined by taking into consideration factors like the property’s age, location in a flood zone and how much coverage a renter would like.

Whether a property has flood protection features, like flood vents, could lower premiums. New construction in the floodplain must include certain protection features, but most older housing lacks them.

The Real Estate Board of New York and New York State Association of Realtors are working to inform their members of the requirements under the new disclosure law, spokespeople for both said. The New York City Housing Authority is planning to add a flood disclosure addendum to its leases and posted a draft for public comment through June 15.

Residential buildings along the East River in Harlem sit in a flood zone.

Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

It remains to be seen whether the disclosures will have any effect on where renters choose to lease or whether or not they will purchase flood insurance. 

“Whenever there’s a tight housing market, there’s tradeoffs,” said Joel Scata, senior attorney with Natural Resources Defense Council’s Water Initiatives, People and Community program. “If they know the property has flooded before, they might be more willing to look somewhere else…or get insurance to cover themselves.”

Scata added that renters looking at apartments on high floors of tall buildings likely wouldn’t need flood insurance, but those in apartments on a low floor or smaller multi- or single-family homes would.

FEMA only offers limited coverage for below-grade spaces, which include garden-level apartments in some cases.

“We would urge all renters interested in buying insurance to ask their agent on what the policy will cover,” FEMA spokesperson Thomas Song wrote in an email.

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