Sellers and Buyers Duties to Protect Their Homes from Wildfire: Defensible Space and home Hardening Laws
Helpful Tips To Protect Your Home
Nobody wants their home to go up in smoke. We all have in mind the horrific visions of cities devastated by the flames and homeowners left with nothing. In an attempt to limit these dramatic situations, new laws were implemented to try to help circumscribe the impact of wildfire on real estate properties. You will find below, for informational purposes only, a synopsis of these new regulations which rely on two key principles: defensible space and home hardening.
1). Defensible space
As of July 1st, 2021, the sellers:
- Of a property located in a high or very high fire hazard severity zone;
- Of a property that is a one to four residential units;
- Of a property located in a common interest development community such as a condominium;
- Of a manufactured home;
Must provide documentation that their property is in compliance with defensible space laws, or the buyers will be required to agree to obtain such documentation of compliance in the future.
Defensible space is the space created by homeowners between a structure on the property and any flammable grass, trees, shrubs, or wildland area that surround it.
Determining Whether the property is located in a high or very high fire hazard zone
There are 2 main options for making this determination:
Option number 1). Check the NHD real estate report ordered by your title company when your home is listed for sale to see if either of the boxes pertaining to fire zones have been checked. If the boxes have been checked, it is safe to presume the property qualifies and that the defensible space legislation will apply.
As a reminder, an NHD real estate report AKA natural hazard disclosure, is an evaluation to see if a real estate property is within a designated hazard area.
Option number 2). Cal Fire has made available a "Fire Hazard Severity Zone Viewer" (FHSZ Viewer) that will allow anyone to input a property address and determine which fire hazard severity zone, if any, the property is located in. The FHSZ Viewer is available at: https://egis.fire.ca.gov/FHSZ/. To access to the map, click on the binocular icon on the left-hand side of the screen, enter the property address, then click on the legend menu on the left-hand side of the screen.
If your property is located in a High or Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone the buyers or the sellers will need to find out if there is or not a local ordinance in place covering the property that requires either the seller or the buyer to obtain documentation of compliance with the defensible space laws.
Areas with or without a local ordinance: How to comply with this law?
For areas without a local ordinance requiring an owner to obtain documentation of compliance with the defensible space laws:
Either the buyer must agree to obtain documentation of compliance within one year after closing escrow, OR if the seller has obtained documentation of compliance within 6 months prior to entering into contract, the seller must provide that documentation to the buyer and provide information on the local agency from which a copy of that documentation may be obtained.
For areas that have enacted a local ordinance requiring an owner to obtain documentation that the property is in compliance with defensible space laws:
Either the buyer must agree to comply with the requirements of the local ordinance, if the ordinance allows the buyer to do so, OR the seller shall provide the buyer with a copy of the documentation that complies with the requirements of that local ordinance and information on the local agency from which a copy of that documentation may be obtained.
Defensible space is comprised of two zones:
Zone 1 extends 30 feet (although some localities could extend it further) from buildings and other structures on the property. Within Zone 1, property owners are required to:
- Remove all dead plants, grass and weeds (vegetation);
- Remove dead or dry leaves and pine needles from your yard, roof and rain gutters;
- Remove branches that hang over your roof and keep dead branches 10 feet away from your chimney;
- Trim trees regularly to keep branches a minimum of 10 feet from other trees;
- Relocate wood piles to Zone 2;
- Remove or prune flammable plants and shrubs near windows;
- Remove vegetation and items that could catch fire from around and under decks;
- Create a separation between trees, shrubs and items that could catch fire, such as patio furniture, wood piles, swing sets, etc.
Zone 2 extends 100 feet out from buildings and other structures. Property owners must do the following within Zone 2:
- Cut or mow annual grass down to a maximum height of 4 inches;
- Create horizontal space between shrubs and trees;
- Create vertical space between grass, shrubs and trees;
For more information click here.
2). Home hardening law
The term home hardening refers to building-resistant materials and home features that protect a home from catching fire. Flying embers can destroy a home up to a mile ahead of a wildfire. This is why the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) asks all homeowners within fire hazard zones to make needed home hardening retro-fits. For more information, Click here.
As of January 1st, 2021, certain sellers are required to complete a home hardening disclosure to disclose to potential buyers certain aspects of the property that may be particularly susceptible to wildfire. In a nutshell, sellers will have to answer to questions specifying which home hardening features the home lacks that make the home vulnerable to wildfire and flying embers based on the seller's actual knowledge.
Sellers must complete the home hardening form if the property:
- Was constructed prior to 2010;
- Is located in a high or very high fire hazard severity zone;
- Is a Residential 1-4 Unit Property (including condominium units and manufactured homes).
Hope this helps;