Time to Disclose Threats to Coastal Property Buyers?

Rhode Island doesn’t require disclosure to potential property buyers of future sea level rise and other climate-related threats. Is it time to change that?

By Dan Kopin | 41˚N

As Rhode Island prepares for sea levels to rise three to five feet or more, as well as for more frequent and intense storms due to climate change, the state should anticipate a looming consumer rights issue.

Rhode Island’s coasts are home to many intergenerational properties, but the impacts that climate change will have on intergenerational ownership of coastal property are rarely, if ever, discussed. This is understandable, perhaps, because many coastal homeowners today may not live to see the worst of the impacts. But their children and grandchildren will likely experience the brunt of sea-level rise and severe storms, inheriting coastal properties with sunken resale values. Climate change poses a consumer rights issue that, if neglected, may well compromise current and future coastal homeowners’ financial expectations.

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Today, when a prospective buyer looks at a house in Rhode Island, the homeowner-to-be has the right to know certain information about what could become their family’s largest asset. The seller must disclose information concerning most of the house’s defects whether with the basement, the roof, the chimney, the electrical system, the air conditioning, or the plumbing. Other disclosures are required for environmental concerns, regarding flood insurance information, wetland proximity, cesspools, radon, lead paint and hazardous waste.

There is an official form required for all disclosures of “deficient conditions,” approved by the Rhode Island Real Estate Commission. Rhode Island law defines “deficient conditions” as:

“any land restrictions, defect, malfunction, breakage, or unsound condition existing on, in, across or under the real estate of which the seller has knowledge.”

Crucially, the Rhode Island Real Estate Commission has the right to amend the disclosure requirements when there is a “determination that health, safety, or legal needs require a change.” Rhode Island law explains that the Commission’s ability to amend the requirements should be “liberally construed,” allowing the Commission to amend when “other property information” comes to light.

 

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