New California law requires seller of home to disclose vulnerability to wildfires

EIler Fire Home
One of the homes that survived the Eiler Fire in northern California, August, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Beginning January 1 in California the seller of a home in a designated high fire area built before 2010 must disclose to the buyer conditions that make the home vulnerable to wildfires.

The seller must provide documentation stating that the property is in compliance with local laws pertaining to defensible spaces or local vegetation management laws. If there is no such local law, the seller shall provide documentation of compliance with state law, assuming the seller obtained such documentation within six months prior to entering into the transaction. But if neither of the above, the seller and the buyer must enter into a written agreement in which the buyer agrees to obtain documentation of compliance with defensible space or a local vegetation management ordinance after close.

Here are the details from the legislation:


Disclosures re Home Hardening

Beginning January 1, 2020, if a seller, after completion of construction, has obtained a final inspection report regarding compliance with, among other things, home hardening laws (Gov’t Code 51182 and 51189*), the seller shall provide to the buyer a copy of that report or information on where a copy of the report may be obtained.

Beginning January 1, 2021, this law requires for properties located in high or very high fire hazard severity zones for homes built before 2010, delivery of a notice to include the following three items:

1. A statutory disclosure that includes information on how to fire harden homes as follows:

“This home is located in a high or very high fire hazard severity zone and this home was built before the implementation of the Wildfire Urban Interface building codes which help to fire harden a home. To better protect your home from wildfire, you might need to consider improvements. Information on fire hardening, including current building standards and information on minimum annual vegetation management standards to protect homes from wildfires, can be obtained on the internet website http://www.readyforwildfire.org.”

2. Disclosure of a list of features that may make the home vulnerable to wildfire and flying embers if the seller is aware. The list includes, among other things, untreated wood shingles, combustible landscaping within five feet of the home, and single pane glass windows.

3. On or after July 1, 2025, a list of low-cost retrofits re home hardening (listed pursuant to Section 51189 of the Government Code*). The notice shall disclose which listed retrofits, if any, that have been completed during the time that the seller has owned the property.

Potential point of sale compliance requirements re defensible space or local vegetation management laws

Beginning July 1, 2021 seller of property in high or very high fire hazard zones shall provide documentation to the buyer stating that the property is in compliance with laws pertaining to state law defensible spaces (Public Resources Code 4291**) or local vegetation management ordinances, or in certain cases the buyer and seller will agree that the buyer is to obtain the documentation after close as follows

1. If there is a local ordinance requiring the seller to comply with state law governing defensible spaces (PRC 4291**) or a local vegetation management ordinance, the seller shall provide the buyer with: 1) a copy of the documentation of such compliance, and 2) information on the local agency from which a copy of that documentation may be obtained.

2. But If no such local ordinance exists, and the seller has obtained an inspection from a state, local or other government agency or qualified nonprofit which provides an inspection with documentation for the property, the seller shall provide the buyer with: 1) the documentation of the inspection if obtained within six months prior to entering into a transaction to sell the real property and 2) information on the local agency from which a copy of that documentation may be obtained.

3. If seller hasn’t obtained documentation of compliance per 1 or 2 above, then the seller and buyer shall enter into a written agreement stating that the buyer agrees to: a) obtain documentation of compliance per the local ordinance or b) if there is no such local ordinance, the buyer shall, within one year, obtain documentation of compliance as long as there is a state, local or other government agency or qualified nonprofit which provides an inspection with documentation of compliance for the property.

This law also requires the California Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) to enter into a joint powers agreement with the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal FIRE) to administer a comprehensive wildfire mitigation and assistance program to encourage cost-effective structure hardening and facilitate vegetation management, contingent upon appropriation by the Legislature.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

9 thoughts on “New California law requires seller of home to disclose vulnerability to wildfires”

  1. I just learned of this new legislation on a Zoom Meeting from the FIRESAFE Council of San Mateo County. I am a local REALTOR, and agree that the Property-specific Natural Hazards Disclosure Form is woefully lacking in specifics. It only designates if a property is in or out of a High Fire Severity Zone. Plus, wind-blown embers can set a fire outside of the “Zone” anyway, so compliance will not necessarily make one’s home safe.

    My question is, why is this only applicable to point-of-sale structures and not vacant lots? Our local Fire District does have a ‘Weed Abatement Ordinance” but that does not include removing any dead trees or built-up debris (fuel) that has fallen, but has not been cleared from vacant lots. Those lots can be interspersed between structures and owned by an absentee land owner, who may even live out of state and not be aware of these issues.
    This has an admirable goal, but perhaps does not go far enough.
    -Cid Young
    Moss Beach, CA
    The unincorporated Coastside

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  2. My husband and I almost bought a home above the Chaminade in Santa Cruz…

    Koala Tree Care (local business committed to saving our communities homes) said they are familiar with the home we almost purchased and that we would be making a wise choice to pull out.

    Paraphrasing: We are in the driest and most dangerous Fire season to date. Scott’s Valley had lowest rainfall ever, Santa Cruz close behind. There would be no way to protect our home (= take out trees in zone 1 = 30 foot radius) due to the steep drop / slope/ravine without risking a future landslide of our house as we were within 7 feet of the edge/slope.

    Many insurance companies are rescinding insurance even after people Fire protect their homes as requested by particular insurance companies.

    Don’t buy a house we can’t secure 30 feet of clearing and another 100 feet of thinning if we purchase any area with land unless we are okay with living on high fire alert.

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  3. The Natural Hazards Report has one sentence addressing wildfire hazard. It’s a joke and essentially useless for the purpose of disclosing actual hazards as defined by current standards.

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  4. My property could be in compliance, but what if my neighbors are not? Would that affect my report?
    Also I see many empty lots that are never cleaned up. How do the owners of these properties get away with ignoring their responsibilities? What agency is supposed to be contacting them? I feel that everyone needs to do their part in order to have a safer environment.

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  5. There is already a Natural Hazards Report required when selling a home in California which discloses this information.
    This Bill is redundant.

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    1. Not so.
      California law requires a seller to disclose to a prospective transferee of real property if the property is located within a very high fire hazard severity zone (a “VHFHS Zone”) and, if it is, that the owner of the property is subject to certain statutory obligations specified in Government Code, Section 51182.

      VHFHS Zones are determined by the Director of the DFFP and are those real properties that are not deemed to be a state responsibility pursuant to Public Resource Code Sections 4125 et seq.

      CAL FIRE is remapping Fire Hazard Severity Zones (FHSZ) for State Responsibility Areas (SRA) and Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones (VHFHSZ) recommendations in Local Responsibility Areas (LRA) to provide updated map zones, based on new data, science, and technology.This specific dataset is used to create the offical “Maps of Fire Hazard Severity Zones in the State Responsibility Area of California”.
      SRA properties are assessed an annual Fire Prevention Fee by the State; the State contracts with County fire departments to cover fire prevention. SRA are not within in a city or town. SRAs have very strict Defensible Space Guidelines which must be adhered to; non- compliance can be reported to the County Fire Marshall who will do an on site inspection. If the property owner fails to comply with the Notice to Abate the hazards to come into compliance with Defensible Space Guidelines, the Fire Marshall has the authority to obtain an Administrative Warrant to enter the property to abate the hazards. The cost is added to the property owner’s tax bill.

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  6. Will it work to improve mitigation action? Hard to say, but Kudos to CA for taking a big step! An interesting follow-up article would be one focused on the “who” and “how” this was put together and support mobilized to result in legislative action …

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