New Bill Would Require Texas Landlords To Inform Renters If A Home Has Flooded

In Texas, renters looking for a new home don’t have the same right to flood risk information that home buyers have. But that could change in the 2021 legislative session.

David J. Phillip/AP
A neighborhood near Houston’s Addicks Reservoir flooded after heavy rains from Tropical Storm Harvey. Taken, Aug. 29, 2017.

A new bill filed for Texas' next legislative session would require landlords to let prospective renters know if a property has flooded before, and whether it's located in a floodplain.

A version of the bill, HB 531, was first filed by state Rep. Armando Walle two years ago. The Texas House of Representatives passed the measure, but a Senate committee declined to hear the bill.

Last session, new flood risk disclosure requirements to benefit Texas home buyers passed, while similar bills by Walle and state Rep. Garnet Coleman to benefit renters failed.

Several apartment complexes in Walle’s district flooded during Hurricane Harvey and he said disclosing a property's flood risk is a common sense approach to protect renters.

"It doesn't stop anybody from renting the place," Walle said. "It's just ‘hey, here's notification. Here's a warning of where you're wanting to rent a home.'"

A spokesperson with the Houston Apartment Association, which advocates for Houston rental housing providers, said they haven't taken any positions on any bills for the 2021 session yet.

But Walle said it's been difficult to pass the bill so far because of opposition from rental housing owners.

"Nobody’s saying that unit shouldn't be offered to the consumer, but if you’re in a flood prone area, I think it’s important to notify these folks," Walle said. "Whether it’s the Houston Apartment Association or the Texas Apartment Association, I encourage them to be partners with us."

Chrishelle Palay, executive director of the Houston housing advocacy group the HOME Coalition, said one reason why the bill has faced opposition is that it would force developers to take more responsibility for building in flood prone areas.

"By passing this legislation, the developers would have to really stop and think about the financial risk that they would be taking," Palay said. "Because this would mean that when developers are either acquiring more property, or are building more development, then they have to actually determine, ‘Okay, if I’m purchasing in a flood plain, then that means I have to disclose this to all of my tenants that this area has flooded before. Is it worth the risk?'"

A recent NPR review found that while 29 states require flood risk disclosure for home buyers, Georgia is the only state that includes renters. Georgia requires landlords to alert renters if a property has flooded three times in five years, according to a 2019 report from the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium.

Without flood risk information from their landlords, it's difficult for renters to know that they need to buy flood insurance coverage. Flood damage isn't covered by most rental insurance policies.

But for now, landlords can refuse when prospective renters ask whether a property has flooded in the past.

"You have consumers that are making decisions basically in the dark, and taking a gamble on their lives, quite honestly," Palay said.

Palay pointed to legislation that passed — and failed — in the 2019 session as proof of a significant disparity between homeowners and home renters.

"There’s more protections for homeowners than there are for renters. (Homeowners) can make an informed decision for them and their families that they want to move into a home that has been flooded or not," Palay said. "Right now, of course, tenants don’t even have that right."

Last year, a Houston Public Media survey of Houston City Council candidates found overwhelming support for flood risk disclosure for renters. All of the 11 current council members who responded to the survey said they would support a measure requiring landlords to disclose a property’s flood risk to potential renters.

"People have a right to know their risks before making decisions about where to live," District A Council Member Amy Peck said.

For now, there are some tools available to help inform residents. Launched in July 2017, just before Hurricane Harvey, a web tool developed by the Texas A&M University at Galveston called Buyers Be-Where is currently available to help determine a property's flood risk. Harris County is also working on a mapping tool to help residents better determine their flood risk.

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