NEW California Disclosure – Home Fire Hardening Disclosure and Advisory

Fire Hardening and Defensible Space Advisory Disclosure and AddendumJust about every year California amends what sellers are required to disclose, and one change that I think we’ll be seeing a lot of is about home fire hardening. Many agents, including myself, will begin to use the fire hardening disclosure / document (which has already changed once in six months). The current one, as of June 2021, is the C.A.R. Form FHDS, 5/21 Fire Hardening and Defensible Space Advisory, Disclosure, and Addendum.

So what is in this document, who will have to use it, and how can it help buyers and current home owners?

The CAR Fire Hardening and Defensible Space form is a two page document completed by the seller of a residential non-commercial property to notify the buyer of fire hazard zoning, code compliance, and possible vulnerabilities and/or defensible features. Both the buyer(s) and seller(s) sign to acknowledge receipt and consent to comply with the appropriate terms in paragraph 4B.

Who Will Use This Form? Paragraphs 1 and 2: Prerequisites

This disclosure is required for homes (1-4 unit residential properties) in high or very high fire hazard severity zones when the seller must complete a Transfer Disclosure Statement (TDS form). Sellers for California real estate transactions falling within those criteria are obligated to provide specific information contained in this form to the buyer. If these properties were improved or were built before January 1, 2010 there are additional stipulations. However, use is not restricted to properties in these zones.

Owners of residences where the zone is unknown, or those outside of the designated fire hazard zones which are “in, upon, or adjoining a mountainous area, forest-covered land, brush-covered land, grass-covered land, or land that is covered with flammable material,” (Gov’t Code 51182 and 1C in CAR FHDS 5/21 – basically, homes in or near ample kindling) should also make these disclosures if they might be considered materially important. Even when it’s not legally necessary, any homeowner might voluntarily disclose using sections of this form. To show that a home is not in a designated high or very high fire hazard severity zone, sellers simply check the box indicating so in paragraph 2B.

Is the address in a high or very high fire hazard severity zone?

Not all homeowners know if their property is in one of these zones, but it’s the seller’s responsibility to find out! In paragraph 1B the form suggests that a natural hazard zone disclosure company could determine this information (and if you’re selling you may have already ordered a report that would contain those details), but it certainly isn’t the only resource.

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Home buying in California? Ask a lot of questions!

seagull in stained glassIf you are purchasing a home in California, it would be wise to ask a lot of questions.  You may wonder why, given the absolutely enormous stack of disclosures that sellers must fill out already.  Is it possible that anything at all could be left out?  You bet.

First, a lot of the disclosures are a little bit limited in one way or another.  More than anything, often they are a subjective assessment by property owners who may not feel the same way about something as you do.  For instance, what constitutes a nuisance or something annoying?  Perhaps they love the sight of seagulls (seagulls are overly abundant in San Jose right now) circling over head, but maybe you view them as flying poop monsters, whose droppings will ruin the paint on your prized automobile.  Are they a nuisance? Or do they enhance the sense of closeness with nature?

Another limitation is with some of the questions themselves.  The number of questions and the way they are worded have changed over time in response to problems which arose from lack of clarity.  In the 90s, one of the questions in the PRDS Supplemental Seller’s Checklist asked if there was any landfill on the property.  After a lawsuit involving medical waste in a Willow Glen (San Jose) backyard, the word was changed to just “fill” (sans “land”) to cover a broader meaning.

In some cases, the meaning is still narrow.  For instance, you may want to know if anyone has ever died at the house.  The disclosure forms, though, only ask if anyone has died there in the last 3 years.  If you don’t ask, the seller doesn’t have to volunteer about a death prior to that (some exceptions).  If this would be a concern to you, then, you will have to ask – and the home owner is required to answer truthfully. (more…)