Bill Would Ensure Land Purchasers Know Of Sea Level Rise Threat

posted in: March 2018 | 0

The current draft of Senate Bill 694 is another attempt this session to work into law the primary recommendation in the new Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaptation Report released earlier this year.

The bill, as originally introduced last year by Sens. Gil Riviere, Will Espero and several others, sought to require an “oceanfront purchaser statement” — to be recorded with the Bureau of Conveyances — to ensure that new oceanfront property owners understood the special hazards, permitting requirements, and limitations that could affect oceanfront properties, especially given the prospect of sea level rise.

The Senate Committee on Water and Land, however, amended the measure last month to instead require a “sea level rise hazard exposure statement” in which new property owners acknowledge the hazards, permitting requirements, etc., that may affect properties — oceanfront or not — within the Sea Level Rise Vulnerability Area (SLR-XA) detailed in the Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaptation report.

Beginning on November 1, 2019, every sale or transfer of real property would have to include a sea level rise hazard exposure statement executed by the purchaser or transferee, under the bill.

The statement would include acknowledgment “that the purchaser or transferee has looked at the appropriate sea level rise hazard exposure map and accepts risks of purchasing or accepting a transfer of property that is at risk of climate-related exposure,” the bill states.

Department of Land and Natural Resources director Suzanne Case testified in support of the original bill. She noted, “The first recommendation of the SLR Report is to ‘Recognize the SLR-XA as a statewide vulnerability zone.’ The SLR-XA demonstrates the extent of the potential exposure of land and structures to flooding and erosion with an increase of 0.5, 1.1, 2.0, and 3.2 feet of sea level rise throughout the state.”

“The department believes that it is critical that buyers understand the hazards and risks they are assuming in purchasing oceanfront property, in the spirit of transparency and disclosure and to support informed decision making by buyers and government agencies,” she wrote before asking that the bill be amended to include disclosure requirements for sea level rise exposure, which the committee did.

The Sierra Club of Hawai‘i’s Randy Ching also supported the original bill, calling it a critical step toward protecting shorelines and residents.

“This bill ensures homeowners are well- informed of the risks of owning property along the shoreline. It also helps to protect public beaches at risk of expedited erosion due to shoreline hardening. … Property owners harden their shorelines for a number of reasons, but ignorance to the fact that their property will likely experience shoreline retreat should not be one of them,” he wrote.

Testifying in opposition to the original version of the bill, the Hawai‘i Association of Realtors (HAR) argued that it already has its own Oceanfront Property Addendum, “which discloses pertinent information specific to the ownership of oceanfront property. … Having set terms and conditions of the statement contained within the Hawai‘i Revised Statutes becomes less flexible when laws, rules, or regulations change. Furthermore, HAR believes that having a set statement may not be able to adequately address current industry practices, thereby potentially exposing sellers, buyers, and real estate licensees to risk.”

The amended bill was referred to the Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection, and Health, which had not held a hearing on it by press time.

— Teresa Dawson

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