Texas may soon require landlords to inform renters about flood risk

Jen Rice May 28, 2021
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In the Houston area, nearly half a million renters live in a floodplain. New protections could mean a significant shift for them. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Texas may soon require landlords to inform renters about flood risk

Jen Rice May 28, 2021
Heard on:
In the Houston area, nearly half a million renters live in a floodplain. New protections could mean a significant shift for them. Win McNamee/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

When she was looking for a home for her family in 2017, Houston-based piano teacher Tracy Quach toured a first-floor apartment. “I remember walking in, being very specific, and asking them, “Hey, has this place ever flooded?’” Quach said. 

She said the apartment management told her no, and she moved in. Less than a month later, in August, Hurricane Harvey hit. Four feet of water flooded her apartment, and Quach lost nearly everything: the furniture she’d just bought, her kids’ artwork, even her husband’s ashes. 

“They really should have been upfront and honest, because what I learned was that this was not the first time that they flooded,” Quach said. “They had most certainly flooded before.”

Texas could soon be one of the rare places with strong renter protections when it comes to flood risk disclosure. As in many states, property owners in Texas have to disclose flood risk information to home buyers –– but not to renters. The state legislature has passed a bill authored by state Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston, that would ensure renters receive a similar warning.

“What we would want from the landlords would be just to give a simple notice that the place has been flooded before, or is in the 100-year floodplain,” Walle said. 

It’s rare for a state to give renters that kind of protection, said Joel Scata, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council who monitors flood risk disclosure laws.

“Texas is probably one of the best states, if not, right now, the best state, in terms of flood risk disclosure,” Scata said. “If this bill gets passed, I think no other state will compare.”

The bill passed the House and Senate with bipartisan support and now goes to the governor. David Mintz, vice president of government affairs at the Texas Apartment Association, said the statewide group that represents landlords is on board. 

“We feel that it takes a reasonable approach to providing people with the information that they need while not imposing any undue burdens on property owners,” Mintz said. 

The impact could be enormous, especially in the Houston area, where nearly half a million renters live in a floodplain, according to research from the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University. 

Housing advocate Chrishelle Palay, executive director of the Houston Organizing Movement for Equity (HOME) Coalition, said the bill would give renters a chance to make informed choices. “I think a lot of times the automatic response is, ‘Well, if they have renters insurance, they’ll be protected,’” Palay said. “But that’s not true.”

A standard renters insurance policy typically doesn’t cover flooding. Tracy Quach’s policy didn’t reimburse her for any of the belongings she lost. Fortunately, the piano teacher was able to salvage her piano.

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