Owners Now Required to Disclose Flood Risks to Tenants
New York State is joining a handful of other states that have enacted flood disclosure laws for renters to ensure they are made aware of potential flood risks to apartments before it’s too late. As climate change increases the frequency and severity of disasters, lawmakers hope to provide renters with more transparency before they sign a lease and have them made aware of flood insurance available to renters.
To help renters make better-informed choices, a new state law requires owners to disclose a property’s propensity to flood and whether it suffered flood damage in the past. As of June 21, along with information about tenant rights, window guard, and lead paint notices, New York State rental leases must include information on whether a property is in a floodplain or has experienced damage due to flooding in the past.
The requirement stems from Senate Bill S5472, which Governor Kathy Hochul signed into law in December of last year. According to the bill’s sponsors, “This bill would establish a flood risk ‘right to know’ for renters. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) currently gives New York’s flood risk disclosure law a failing grade in part because New York’s flood disclosure laws only apply to sales of residential real property, meaning that renters are not receiving adequate disclosures about the flood risks and history of the units they lease.”
The bill creates Real Property Law (RPL) §231-b, which requires all residential leases to provide notice of: (a) whether any or all of the leased premises is in a FEMA designated floodplain; (b) whether any or all of the leased premises is in a FEMA designated 100-year floodplain; (c) whether any of all of the leased premises is in a FEMA designated 500-year floodplain; and (d) whether the leased premises has experienced any flood damage due to a natural flood event, such as heavy rainfall, coastal storm surge, tidal inundation, or river overflow. You can adapt our Model Notice: Attach Required Flood Risk Rider to Leases, to comply with this new law.
A building in a FEMA-designated 100-year floodplain indicates the building is at risk of taking on water in a 1-in-100-year flood event, which has a 1 percent chance of happening in any given year. A 500-year floodplain means there is a 0.2 percent chance of this occurring in a given year. The calculations are based on FEMA’s flood insurance rate maps, which show risk areas. To find your community’s flood map, visit the Flood Map Service Center at https://msc.fema.gov/portal/home and search using your property’s address.
These maps, however, only show risks of coastal flooding and not inland flooding from heavy rains. And they were last updated in 2007. FEMA 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.
The last provision of the notice requirements is meant to be a catch-all and identify risks beyond coastal flooding. Owners must include a notice on whether the building flooded in the past, as far as they reasonably know, and that these flooding events could be from rainfall or river overflow.
Renter’s Flood Insurance
In addition to information on flood risks, the law requires owners to notify tenants in their leases of flood insurance available to renters. Tenants can purchase flood insurance through a National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) that would reimburse them for any lost or ruined belongings within the property up to a certain amount. On average, about 40 percent of all NFIP claims come from outside high-risk flood areas.
A standard renters insurance policy covers a tenant’s personal belongings from theft, wind, or fire damage, but it typically doesn’t cover flood damage. A contents-only flood insurance policy, sometimes referred to as a renters flood insurance policy, can insure personal items in a rental unit damaged by a flood. This separate insurance policy can cover thousands of dollars of potential personal property damage. Without it, tenants have to replace any flood-damaged clothes, furniture, electronics, and other possessions out-of-pocket.
According to FEMA, coverage can start at $100 a year. And renters flood insurance premiums may be calculated based on factors such as building age, building occupancy, number of floors, location of contents, flood risk (that is, flood zone), claims history for the building, the deductible chosen, and the amount of coverage.
NFIP policies have a 30-day waiting period after purchase before they take effect. And tenants can purchase a renters flood insurance policy by contacting their insurance company or calling an independent insurance agent who can write flood insurance directly with the NFIP. Tenants can use FEMA’s online tool at FloodSmart.gov/flood-insurance/providers or call (877) 336-2627 to find a flood insurance provider.
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