ORLANDO, Fla. — In early 2020, a state senator filed a bill that received no attention, no committee hearing and no chance of passage, but could have given thousands of Floridians a chance to avoid the damage brought by Hurricane Ian.
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SB 1474 would have required people selling homes to disclose whether the property had ever flooded before, experienced standing water for more than 48 hours or if any part of the property was on or near a FEMA flood zone.
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Two years later, the author of the bill, Annette Taddeo (D), is still being asked about its failure to gain traction.
“The problem, as with everything in Florida, is that for certain powerful interests, this is something they’d rather not have to do,” Taddeo told the Florida Phoenix earlier this month.
It’s unclear exactly how many properties in Central Florida would have fallen under Taddeo’s bill, should it have passed. Leading up to the storm, meteorologists warned newly constructed neighborhoods that had never experienced flooding would suddenly be under water. FEMA flood maps covered several in Osceola County alone.
Florida law also has no protections for tenants, like the ones in Good Samaritan. A landlord does not have to disclose if the unit is at risk of flooding or has a history of it, and renter's insurance doesn't cover water damage.— Nick Papantonis WFTV (@NPapantonisWFTV) October 28, 2022
However, the bill’s failure to pass left Florida among the roughly 20 states that do not require a flood disclosure. The groupings don’t fall under regional or political boundaries — Florida is joined by states like Massachusetts, Arkansas and Montana, according to FEMA — but few states without disclosure laws are more prone to disaster than the low-lying Sunshine State.
States that do have laws often enact them because homes that flood once tend to flood again. A 2017 study illustrated the damage flood-prone homes can cause a region. In Florida’s most populous 12 counties, researchers found, 15,000 homes were responsible for almost 40,000 flood insurance claims.
READ: Good Samaritan tells residents to start paying rent as safety concerns are raised
Hurricane Ian also exposed the weaknesses in Taddeo’s bill, chiefly the fact that it did not make any requirements for landlords negotiating with prospective tenants.
Unlike homeowners, who can be required to get flood insurance by their mortgage company and who may get lucky with a home inspector that picks up on any flood damage, renters have to take the word of their landlord — and renter’s insurance normally doesn’t cover flooding.
That’s what ultimately proved to be devastating to residents of Good Samaritan Village, who reported moving in unaware that their units were a severe storm away from ruining them.
“I was not advised to get flood insurance,” one resident said, confirming she never asked the complex about its location in a FEMA flood zone.
As the cleanup effort continues in Good Samaritan and beyond, some are asking if it’s time to give Taddeo’s bill another try.
“I think this is the type of discussion that should be in that special session,” Sen. Linda Stewart (D) said, referring to a special session called for Dec. 12 that will address property taxes and property insurance post-Ian.
Stewart sits on the very committee that SB 1474 met its quick death in but had no part in its fate. However, she lowered expectations for what could be accomplished. Pitting sellers, who stand to lose property value if they were required to disclose flooding history, against buyers is a tough sell in Tallahassee, she explained.
She appeared to be more optimistic about landlord-tenant protections as she theorized disclosures could be easily written into a lease, encouraging a tenant to get flood insurance.
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One possible solution for buyers and sellers could be putting more restrictions on new construction, such as placing houses on stilts, she said, recommending a solution some coastal and riverfront communities have done elsewhere.
“I think that we’re going to see legislation that’s going to say, ‘OK, this is what happened to you in 10 years, it could happen again. So you’re going to have to build yourself into a reliable anti-flood program,’” she predicted.
WFTV reached out to other representatives on both sides of the aisle for their thoughts, but did not get a response. Taddeo is running for Congress and will vacate her seat after the November election.
Any legislation would need support in both chambers of the state legislature. The Republican chairman for the committee overseeing SB 1474 told the Phoenix the lack of support among House representatives was one of the factors in his decision to not give the bill a hearing back in the day.
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