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How can I tell if an apartment I'm buying has flooded in the past?

By Alanna Schubach | September 27, 2021 - 9:30AM 

If a building's lower level was upgraded, but the top floor left alone, or if the building's boiler was recently replaced, these could be signs of past floods.

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Question:

I'm considering buying a ground-floor apartment, but with the recent flooding in New York, I have some concerns. How can I find out whether an apartment has experienced flooding or other types of water damage in the past? Besides mold, are there any telltale signs of past flooding or leaks?

Answer:

There are definitely signs to look out for that may indicate a flood happened in the past, our experts say.

"First and foremost, the smell of mold or damp. The nose does not lie," says Lawrence J. Ubell, president of Accurate Building Inspectors. "Look at the baseboard molding for signs of both water damage and staining. If one knows where and if there is a main sewer or house trap pit, look in there to see if there is water in the pit, which would be an indication of a high water table." 

This has become an increasing concern for New Yorkers in the aftermath of major flooding from the remnants of Hurricane Ida. Fortunately many prospective buyers can access information about a home's flooding history if they suspect there may have been past issues but there's no visual evidence. 

"Flood claim history is protected information, but the owner of the property can get a flood history from FEMA," says Garrett Guttenberg, vice president of Denis A. Miller Insurance Agency. "You can have your attorney request it from the seller's attorney, and it will tell you the history of all claims on the property." 

If that's not available, buyers can also go to FEMA's website and search the building's address on the agency's flood map. 

"If the building is in Zone X, flood insurance is not required. If it's in Zone AE, it's totally possible there has been a flood in the past," Guttenberg says. 

Other possible signs to look out for, he adds, are if a home's lower level has been recently upgraded, but the top floor left alone, or if the building's boiler was recently replaced. These could be red flags that the property's basement or ground floors were flooded in recent years. 

Buyers who are concerned about future risks could purchase a FEMA flood policy, in addition to their regular apartment insurance. 

"Just note that FEMA has pretty stringent restrictions on covering property in a basement, defined as a room below grade at all corners," says Jeffrey Schneider of Gotham Brokerage (a Brick sponsor). "Some apartment insurance policies can provide sewer and drain backup coverage, but typically this coverage would not apply if an area is inundated with water. The water would have to come in exclusively or mostly through overwhelmed sewers or drains. If your street has turned into a river or lake, only flood insurance would apply." 


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