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Homeowners and renters should know their flood risk

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Minnesota is a state blessed with abundant rivers and pristine lakes, but with so many residents living near a shoreline, our many waterways create a danger of flooding and with it the possible loss of life and property.

In the last 20 years, floods have contributed to more than $377 million in federal disaster assistance in Minnesota, severely impacting our way of life. While flooding occurs less often than tornados and winter storms in Minnesota, it creates more damage financially to properties than both tornados and winter storms combined.

Rick Larkin

However, unlike tornados and winter storms, floods can often be predicted based upon location and how frequently they occur annually. That allows us to prepare for them and to lower the risk that it will damage property or cost lives. As president of the Association of Minnesota Emergency Managers (AMEM) I am proud of the tireless work the emergency management professionals in our state conduct day in and day out to make sure that plans are in place and response is ready to go when a major flood hits.

Often in the dark

While planners, emergency managers, firefighters and first responders all work to predict the next flood and prepare for it, homeowners and renters are often in the dark about what their flood risk actually is. This is dangerous because community preparedness for flooding depends on everyone being involved and informed.

However, in Minnesota, because of our laws, many folks are in fact buying homes or renting without ever being told that they are at risk for flooding. This lack of knowledge about flood risk puts people in danger and must be remedied.

In order to protect people, it is critical that anyone looking to purchase or lease a new home knows its flood history and risk, so that they can make an informed decision about whether it’s the right move or take appropriate steps to mitigate the risk. States across the country have different requirements for flood disclosure, with varying degrees of information needed, time allotted to review and opportunities to remedy any dangers.

Uniform standard of disclosure needed

Key to addressing issues is a national and uniform standard of disclosure, either federal or enacted at the state level, which provides future residents comprehensive information on a property’s flood risk in a timely manner and that is accessible and realistic for sellers. With the knowledge of flood risk and history from the outset, a new owner could spread the costs of mitigation throughout the lifetime of their mortgage, reducing upfront and unexpected costs.

Strong flood risk and history disclosures are not only ethical to keep people out of harm’s way, they could also help reduce the taxpayer burden related to the National Flood Insurance Program and disaster assistance through reduced flood claims and loss. The program is already $25 billion in debt and is financially unsustainable. In the coming months, as Congress reauthorizes the NFIP, there is an opportunity for flood risk disclosure to be included and promulgated nationwide.

Minnesota is a state blessed with abundant rivers and pristine lakes, but with so many residents living near a shoreline, our many waterways create a danger of flooding and with it the possible loss of life and property. We have to be prepared, which means no one should be moving into their new home without full knowledge of whether they are at risk for flooding or what they can do about it. Flood risk disclosure is a sensible start.

Rick Larkin is the president of the Association of MN Emergency Managers (AMEM).

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