As of October of this year, the United States had experienced 18 weather and climate disasters, each with losses in excess of $1 billion. According to the National Climate Data Center, these events have included a drought, two floods, nine severe storms, four tropical cyclones, one wildfire, and a winter storm.
Preparation is essential, whether you’re a renter or a homeowner, says Jeffrey Hussey, the director of Public Interest & Litigation at Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida, a nonprofit law firm.
As soon as it is safe, inspect your home to determine what damage has occurred and notify your landlord of the property damage to your home. Your landlord can make arrangements for repairmen to visit the property. Request that your landlord keep you updated on the plans and timetable for the repairs. A written request for repairs is the best way to notify your landlord. In your request, specify how long it will take to complete the repairs. Send your written repair request via certified mail with a return receipt or a delivery tracking service (UPS, FedEx, USPS mail). Maintain a copy of the return receipt for your records.
You should go over your lease again to make sure you understand what repairs you and your landlord are responsible for. If you don’t have a copy of your lease, request one from your landlord.
When a disaster strikes, the rent abatement or lease termination provisions in your lease are the most important. If a significant portion of the property is damaged or rendered completely unusable, you have the right to terminate your lease. You also have the option of lowering your rent until the property is completely repaired.
If you live in an apartment building, your landlord may offer to relocate you to another undamaged unit. If you decide to move to a different unit, you are not required to sign a lease for a period of time longer than your original lease term. If you do not vacate, the landlord must evict you through the court system.
If you have a written lease, read it to see what it says about receiving your security deposit back if you move out due to a disaster. If you don’t have a written lease, or if your lease says nothing about this type of event, the landlord must either return your deposit or send you a letter explaining why they won’t.
You must notify your landlord of your new address before leaving your apartment. If you and your landlord disagree about whether you should receive your deposit back, you can seek the advice of an attorney.
An “uninhabitable” rental property is one that is completely unfit for residential use. When your home becomes uninhabitable, you or your landlord may terminate the lease by providing written notice at any time before repairs are completed.
Try to negotiate a rent suspension or reduction, but unless your lease allows it or you live in public housing, you can only get a rent reduction if your landlord fails to make repairs you properly requested, and you then sue your landlord.
If you break your lease, you are only liable for the prorated rent due up until the date you move. You will still be responsible for any charges that have accumulated up to that point, including past-due rent. Make a written and dated request for return of your security deposit with a forwarding address where it can be sent. You should be aware that if there is damage to the property that is not the result of the disaster and is not the result of normal wear and tear, your landlord may withhold some or all of your deposit. If your security deposit is withheld, your landlord is required to provide a written, itemized accounting of the repair costs.
If you can live in a leased property while repairs are being made, it is partially unfit for residential use. If the leased property is only partially unusable, you may be entitled to a partial rent reduction rather than simply terminating the lease.
In this case, your first priority should be to ensure that you have made a proper repair request to your landlord so that your landlord is obligated to repair your house/apartment. At that point, you may be able to pursue the rent reduction to which you are entitled.