Your Responsibilities as a Tenant After a Natural Disaster

Natural disasters can wreak havoc on your life in many ways. If you rent a home or apartment in a disaster-prone area, it is important to learn about your responsibilities if your unit is affected.

While you may think only particular regions of the country are vulnerable to natural disasters, no region is completely immune. Floods, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, severe storms fires, landslides and earthquakes are common types of disasters you must be prepared for as a tenant. Even extreme hot or cold weather can create disastrous conditions in some situations.

With all that in mind, you may assume that your landlord will take care of any damages that occur after a severe weather incident or natural disaster. While it is true that property managers are in charge of repairs, you still have a few important responsibilities as a tenant. If you have been affected by a natural disaster in your rental unit, learn what steps you need to take below.

Contact Your Insurance Agent

If your personal property is damaged following a natural disaster, contact your renter’s insurance agent and make a claim. Insuring personal belongings such as furniture and electronics is usually your responsibility, not your landlord’s. Many apartments require you to carry renter’s insurance to sign the lease agreement.

However, if you do not have renter’s insurance, you may still ask your landlord if his or her property insurance for the apartment covers any damage to your personal belongings. Damage to the rental property itself is generally protected under the landlord’s property insurance, meaning that it is not your responsibility to pay for repairs.

Comply with Your Landlord’s Needs

After a natural disaster, landlords typically must make repairs to the interior and/or exterior of your unit. In emergency situations, the property manager may not need your permission in order to enter the unit. For example, landlords may be permitted to enter without giving advanced notice in order to deal with flood or fire damage. Check the language in your rental agreement to see what your rights are in an emergency.

Even in non-emergency repair situations, you will have to accommodate your landlord’s needs when he or she is assessing and fixing the property. For example, to fix the siding on your unit, a property manager may request that you move personal belongings off your porch to provide easier access. Remember, a landlord is the one responsible for making certain repairs after a unit sustains damage. In many cases, this is only possible if you cooperate during the process.

Check Your Lease

A natural disaster can bring your life to a standstill, but your lease will remain in effect unless you or your landlord agree on any changes. Always read your lease to see exactly what provisions it contains relating to natural disasters. In some cases, you may be able to break a lease early in the event that your unit is damaged.

Related Article: Your Landlord’s Responsibilities

Your situation will vary based on the severity of the damage to your property as well as state laws and the language in your lease agreement. Following a disaster, you will usually have four options when it comes to your future living situation.

Continue Paying Rent

In most cases, you will need to keep paying rent on time even if you live in an area that has been affected by a natural disaster. The terms of your lease are generally not affected by the occurrence of a natural disaster even if your property is damaged to the point that it is completely unlivable.

A lease, as well as your responsibilities to uphold it, can only be altered if you and your landlord come to an official agreement. Always assume that the terms of your lease remain intact unless noted otherwise in your paperwork.

Check if You Qualify for a Rent Reduction

When a property is partially damaged, but not to the extent that it is completely unlivable, you may be eligible to get a reduction on your rent. This provision usually only applies if your unit was damaged by natural disasters, not negligence.

Before asking for a reduced rate on your rent, check the wording in your lease, as some agreements do not allow you to get a lower rate even in the event of a natural disaster. In any case, it is strongly recommended that you and your landlord put any new agreements in writing.

Decide if Your Lease Can Be Terminated

There are a few situations in which your lease may end if your rental unit is severely damaged after a disaster. First, if the property is completely unlivable, you and your landlord may reach an agreement to end the lease early. Second, if your landlord does not make repairs in a timely manner, you generally have the right to terminate your lease and move out.

Regardless of your situation, you should never simply move out of your apartment and stop paying rent if your unit is damaged in a natural disaster. Always get an agreement in writing to ensure that you and your landlord are on the same page.

Move into a Non-Damaged Unit

When you live in a complex that has vacant, undamaged units, your landlord may permit you to move into one of these units while signing a new lease to live there. In most cases, your landlord cannot make you sign a new lease that is longer than the period of your old lease.

For example, if you had nine months remaining on your old lease, landlords generally cannot make you sign a new 12-month lease if you move into another unit. However, the laws relating to this provision may vary based on state laws and the policies of your rental property.

Ask for Your Security Deposit Back

Regardless of whether your lease is terminated as a result of a natural disaster or you remain in your rental until the natural end of your lease, ask for your security deposit back. In most cases, your landlord can only retain money from your deposit if you caused damage to the property in violation of your lease.

In other words, if a window in your unit broke due to storm damage, your landlord cannot legally dip into your security deposit to cover the repair cost for the window. When it comes to getting a security deposit returned, laws vary based on where you live.

In many cases, landlords must return your deposit within a specified number of days. When your property manager does not get your security deposit back to you before the deadline, you may need to request your deposit in writing or take legal action.

Related Article: How to Get Your Full Deposit Back

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