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Consumers have a lot to think about when buying or selling real property in California. Good, bad or indifferent, this is one state where deals can pivot on natural hazard disclosure ("NHD") - thanks to real estate laws, regulations and standards of care that protect the consumer and obligate the seller and agents who represent them. The NHD Academy, by First American NHD and JCP-LGS Disclosures.com, eases that challenge with videos for agents and consumers.
Maybe you've noticed. California tends to do things differently than other states. You see it in the state's culture, commerce and economy. In the world of real estate, California is unique for its attention to property hazard disclosure. That's because the state has suffered some of the worst natural disasters in the nation's history - earthquakes, floods, fires - and we've learned a thing or two about protecting real estate consumers.
Floods are the #1 natural disaster in the U.S., according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which administers the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Within the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) - any Zone "A" or "V" on a NFIP flood map - there is a 1% annual chance of flooding at or above the expected 100-year flood level. A federally backed mortgage in the SFHA requires flood insurance and state law requires its disclosure on sale.
Few states have suffered more than California from dam failures. The collapse of the St. Francis Dam (1928) and Baldwin Hills Dam (1963) left in their wake hundreds dead and millions of dollars in property losses, and the near-collapse of the Lower Van Norman Dam (1971) threatened tens of thousands of lives downstream in San Fernando Valley. Hence, California mandates disclosure on sale if a property is within an area of potential dam-failure inundation.
California's fire service (CAL FIRE) has a legal responsibility for fire protection on all State Responsibility Area (SRA) lands as defined by land ownership, population density and land use. CAL FIRE typically does not have responsibility for densely populated areas (local fire department jurisdictions), agricultural lands, or federal lands. State laws and fire codes may impose certain costs on property owners within the SRA that must be disclosed on sale.
Effective July 1, 2017, the annual fire prevention fee imposed in 2011 on properties in the SRA has been suspended until 2031 under Assembly Bill 398 (2017).
For more information about SRA zones, go to www.fire.ca.gov.
Conditions of terrain steepness, fuel loading and dry winds create a potential to spread a wildfire. Once ignited, fighting wildfires is made more difficult by an inadequate water supply, narrow roads, evacuation congestion, and other factors. Where California's fire service (CAL FIRE) defines a very high wildfire threat within a municipal jurisdiction, local codes impose certain fire safety duties on property owners that must be disclosed on sale.
Ground shaking causes most earthquake damage, but surface fault rupture was California's first statutory natural hazard disclosure. Slippage on a fault deep within the earth can break through the ground surface, shifting the landscape and everything else crossing the fault trace - fields, fences, streets, sidewalks, homes, hospitals, and water, sewer and gas pipelines. Active earthquake fault zones are a material fact in real estate.
California's consumer protection laws extend to nature. As every earthquake disaster illustrates, natural hazards harm people and property - but science and engineering can reduce that damage. Modern codes and regulations strengthen our buildings and improve public safety, and California's unique hazard disclosure laws protect consumers through real estate education.
Regulatory natural hazard zones drawn by city and county planners are where "the rubber meets the road". California law requires municipalities to publish a long-range vision called the General Plan. Its "Safety Element" maps local hazards that are unique or often differ from the state zones. Because they can affect a building-permit decision and limit the buyer's use of the property, the Safety Element zones should be disclosed if applicable.