Starting May 1, 2022, just two months from now, the seller’s disclosures, which are mandatory for all sales of residential real estate in Hawaiʻi, must include information on whether the property is potentially affected by rising sea levels due to climate change.
Why the Hawaiʻi Legislature Amended the Property Seller Disclosure Law
Work has been underway for a number of years to study the possible future affects of climate change on our Hawaiian islands, primarily so state and county governments can plan appropriately for changing infrastructure needs and protect the welfare of residents living in areas exposed to changing sea levels.
In 2017, the State of Hawai‘i Sea Level Rise Vulnerability & Adaptation Report was published. The following year the State Climate Commission recommended incorporating information from the report into seller’s disclosures, and the Hawaii Association of Realtors began preparing to implement that recommendation.
This is in addition to existing disclosure requirements regarding whether the property is in a flood zone as established by the National Flood Insurance Program of FEMA. Whereas sea level changes will affect primarily oceanfront and near-oceanfront properties, the broader disclosure already requires disclosure for properties close to a stream or area otherwise likely to flood in heavy rainfall conditions.
Without getting into all the technicalities, the modeling was done by researchers at the University of Hawaiʻi and incorporates three ways of looking at the potential dangers of rising ocean levels: passive flooding, meaning low-lying areas in danger of becoming inundated as average sea levels change; annual high wave flooding; and coastal erosion due to higher ocean levels. Here is a link to the sea level rise mapping tool.
How the Sea Level Change Disclosure Law Affects Buyers and Sellers of Real Property
Just as sellers and their representatives currently check the National Flood Insurance Maps to see if the property falls within a special flood zone, starting in May they will also need to check the State of Hawaii Sea Rise viewer. While the available mapping tool will show the effects of sea level rise by the end of the century from 6 inches to 3.2 feet, it is this highest marker that is the basis for the required disclosures.
Although this sounds like a potentially scary disclosure, low lying areas would already show up as in a special flood zone in the previous mapping. And oceanfront parcels that are elevated from the ocean (as many are here on Hawaii Island) will be little affected by a 3.2 foot rise over the next 80 years.
The recent amendments to the law requiring sellers of residential real property to disclose material facts to buyers during a transaction will be incorporated into the Hawaii Association of Realtors standard Sellers Real Property Disclosure Statement. The agent representing you in the transaction should be able to help you complete this section (if you are a seller) or send you to resources to interpret the disclosure (if you are a buyer).