Renters: How to Recover After a Natural Disaster

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Landlords are required to provide safe and structurally sound apartments for tenants. The tenant is free to break the lease if the property is not safe or livable. If the tenant continues to live there, the landlord must continue to keep power and utilities on (to the extent that it would be safe). The landlord is not generally responsible for putting up or financing hurricane, tornado, or storm protection. FEMA may offer financial assistance to both tenants and landlords after a disaster.

Accommodations

Tenants are not expected to pay for the time when the apartment is not usable for habitation, despite a lease or lease provision stating the opposite (see the “implied warranty of habitability” below). For this reason, landlords often agree to a reduction in rent while the apartment is unavailable. Sometimes, tenants are granted a stipend for alternate living arrangements, covering the tenant’s out-of-pocket expenses for the move. Some local laws may require it and some landlord insurance plans automatically include it.

Moving Out

In every state except Arkansas, leases include an “implied warranty of habitability” which requires apartments to be safe and livable. It exists as a tenant right even if there is no written lease, it’s not mentioned in the lease, or even despite a lease that says the landlord is not responsible. The exact details of what needs to be fixed to keep the apartment safe and livable differ heavily by state, but the key factors are health and safety (not comfort, annoyance, or quality), as well as structural soundness. In the case of a natural disaster, if the apartment is unusable for more than a few days, the landlord is likely in breach of the implied warranty of habitability. Unless the tenant caused the problem, the landlord cannot charge tenants for these repairs and tenants are free to break a lease if the landlord doesn’t fix the problem in a reasonable time (some jurisdictions specify exact time periods by which landlords must fix issues). In breaking the lease and moving out, tenants are entitled to their deposit back, but in practicality, it may prove difficult to get the landlord to hand back the money. Furthermore, the tenant’s next landlord may discover the incident in the tenant’s rental history, so tenants should prepare for questions with pictures and any news stories about the natural disaster.

Power and Utilities

If the tenant chooses to continue living in the apartment after the storm, the landlord is required act the same as normal to avoid violating the lease. For example, the landlord cannot turn off electricity to a whole building if it’s half-abandoned unless it would cause additional danger to do so.

Government Assistance

FEMA or the Federal Emergency Management Agency often offer financial assistance to residents after a major disaster. FEMA various separate assistance programs depending on the type and severity of disaster. See here for a quick fact sheet: https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/24945

Accommodations


Tenants are not expected to pay for the time when the apartment is not usable for habitation, despite a lease or lease provision stating the opposite (see the “implied warranty of habitability” below). For this reason, landlords often agree to a reduction in rent while the apartment is unavailable. Sometimes, tenants are granted a stipend for alternate living arrangements, covering the tenant’s out-of-pocket expenses for the move. Some local laws may require it and some landlord insurance plans automatically include it.

Moving Out


In every state except Arkansas, leases include an “implied warranty of habitability” which requires apartments to be safe and livable. It exists as a tenant right even if there is no written lease, it’s not mentioned in the lease, or even despite a lease that says the landlord is not responsible. The exact details of what needs to be fixed to keep the apartment safe and livable differ heavily by state, but the key factors are health and safety (not comfort, annoyance, or quality), as well as structural soundness. In the case of a natural disaster, if the apartment is unusable for more than a few days, the landlord is likely in breach of the implied warranty of habitability.

Unless the tenant caused the problem, the landlord cannot charge tenants for these repairs and tenants are free to break a lease if the landlord doesn’t fix the problem in a reasonable time (some jurisdictions specify exact time periods by which landlords must fix issues).

In breaking the lease and moving out, tenants are entitled to their deposit back, but in practicality, it may prove difficult to get the landlord to hand back the money. Furthermore, the tenant’s next landlord may discover the incident in the tenant’s rental history, so tenants should prepare for questions with pictures and any news stories about the natural disaster.

Power and Utilities


If the tenant chooses to continue living in the apartment after the storm, the landlord is required act the same as normal to avoid violating the lease. For example, the landlord cannot turn off electricity to a whole building if it’s half-abandoned unless it would cause additional danger to do so.

Government Assistance


FEMA or the Federal Emergency Management Agency often offer financial assistance to residents after a major disaster. FEMA various separate assistance programs depending on the type and severity of disaster. See here for a quick fact sheet: https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/24945

Last Update : July 22, 2018 UTC

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