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Home Buyers Not Necessarily Warned Of Natural Hazards

Maj. Tawny Dotson
Washington National Guard
Rescue workers are combing the site of a massive landslide near Oso, Wash.

The Oso landslide is raising questions about when the public should be warned of a geological hazard.

In California, that warning comes when you buy property. But California is unique.

Like Washington, California is a poster state for natural disasters: mudslides, earthquakes, wildfires. Since 1998, a Natural Hazards Disclosure form is required for real estate transactions that take place within state-mapped hazard zones.

Fidelity National Disclosure will do a hazard analysis and even complete the form on behalf of a seller. The firm's Chuck Piro thinks the added disclosure is a good requirement that other states should consider.

“If I were buying the property are these things that I would want to know and the answer is always, of course, this is what I would want to know.”

In Washington, sellers must disclose if the property has been damaged by an earthquake or landslide. But there’s no explicit requirement to disclose, for instance, if there’s a slide-prone hill nearby.

Bill Clarke, public policy director for Washington Realtors, says what’s happening off the property is outside a seller’s expertise.

“Disclosure law in Washington focuses on the things that the seller would know about which are the things actually at the property.”

Clarke thinks more disclosure of natural hazards might be appropriate in real estate transactions. But he’s not convinced it should be the seller’s responsibility.

Already there are indications state lawmakers will take up this issue next January as a direct result of the Oso tragedy.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."