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In Harvey's Wake

Bill would prevent Texans from unknowingly buying homes in areas designed to flood

After Hurricane Harvey inundated the Houston area with rain, scores of homeowners learned too late that their properties were designed to flood. Senate Bill 339 would require sellers to disclose that risk, as well as whether a home has previously flooded.

Development encroaching on the north side of Addicks Reservoir in Houston on Sept. 7, 2016.

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State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, on Friday filed legislation that would require sellers of residential properties to notify buyers if a property is located in a flood-prone area — and whether it has previously flooded.

Senate Bill 339 would change a provision of the state’s property code to force sellers to tell buyers whether properties are in a 100- or 500-year floodplain or partly inside a reservoir or reservoir “flood pool” — an area next to a reservoir that is usually dry but is designed to hold floodwater. The bill also would require sellers to disclose whether the property has flooded before, whether it might flood under “catastrophic circumstances,” and if it’s located within 5 miles downstream of a reservoir.

If a seller doesn’t disclose the information, the law would allow buyers to terminate the contract — or sue.

Currently, sellers only have to disclose whether a home is in a 100-year floodplain.

The lack of flood risk disclosure became a major issue in Houston in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, when homeowners who live upstream from two federally-owned reservoirs learned their properties were actually designed to flood even though they aren’t located in any designated floodplain.

Scores of those homeowners are now suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the city of Houston and Harris County in federal court. Many more homeowners who live downstream of the reservoirs, known as Addicks and Barker, also are suing because their properties flooded after the Army Corps released a historic amount of water from the reservoir dams following Harvey's torrential rains.

“One issue in particular that I have heard about from so many constituents who were affected by Harvey is that they were completely unaware they were at risk of flooding,” Huffman said in a statement. “This is just a small piece of the complicated puzzle that is Harvey recovery and resiliency. I believe that if passed, S.B. 339 will have a tremendous lasting impact as prospective homeowners for years to come will be provided with the critical flood risk information they need for what is often their largest investment.”

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