In the wake of Hurricane Harvey and Irma, multiple wildfires on the West Coast, tornadoes, and the recent 7.1 earthquake in Mexico, now would be the time to learn about you and your tenant’s rights during a natural disaster. As most parts of the United States are impacted by at least one natural disaster (with some areas hit by several different kinds per year), knowing what to do if a hurricane, earthquake, or tornado affects your property can alleviate some of the stress in the moment.
Contact your Tenants
First and foremost, you should try to get into contact with your tenants and make sure that they’re okay. Depending on if they’re still on the property or not, they might be able to give you some preliminary details about how they weathered the natural disaster, and if the roads are accessible. If there seem to be damages, you won’t be able to professionally repair them (or inspect them yourself) until the roads are clear.
Talk to each of your tenants about what your plan is moving forward. While you can’t make promises about the condition of their property, you can give them information on what you’re doing, and what steps they can do as well. For example, keep them updated on when the property will be inspected, when repairmen will arrive and how long it will take, assure them that you’ve contacted your rental property’s insurance provider and urge them to contact their renter’s insurance provider as well.
Quick Tip: Let your tenants know that they can apply for federal disaster assistance. This can help cover costs like accommodation during repairs, disaster-caused burial, and cleaning up some items.
Trust your Lease
After a major natural disaster, you should review the terms you have in your lease. This details not only what damages you’re legally responsible for, but what your tenants are responsible for as well. Beyond the lease, you’ll want to look over your state’s property codes. Each state is different and knowing your tenant’s rights during a natural disaster can help you give advice to grateful tenants who seem lost or confused.
Quick Tip: Don’t forget that fair housing rules still apply during a natural disaster!
“What about Rent?”
Regardless of the natural disaster, the tenant is responsible for paying the rent until the lease is officially terminated. That being said, it’s up to you to decide if you want to waive late fees. Make rental payments easier during a natural disaster by moving to an online payment system.
Quick Tip: Before a natural disaster, make sure the lease agreement has language that details provisions if the property is partially or completely destroyed during a natural disaster. This includes clarity about rent abatement or lease termination after a disaster. After revising, contact your attorney to ensure your lease is compliant with state law.
Take Structural Disaster Prep into your Own Hands
While disaster prep can only be done with natural disasters that are often predicted before they hit like hurricanes and tornadoes (earthquakes and tsunamis cannot be predicted), it’s important to clarify who is responsible for performing structural preparations. Most independent landlords and property management companies opt to let their tenants shoulder the cost and labor of boarding up windows and purchasing sandbags, but be aware that you run the risk of your tenants not prepping to your standards.
Regardless if your resident boards the windows up or not, (in most cases) you will be responsible for repairing any damages to the property. Beyond boards and sandbags, installing hurricane shutters and impact resistant glass, anchoring large appliances, and using fire-resistant plants in your landscaping can help minimize your property’s damage in the long run.
According to this 2013 natural disaster report, the top five states with the most natural disasters are Texas, California, Oklahoma, New York, and Florida. Before a natural disaster strikes where your property resides, take this time to review the terms in your lease and emergency plan.
Have you or your property ever been impacted by a natural disaster? Let us know your advice on how to move forward in the comment section below, and be sure to subscribe.