Landlord Responsibilities: Natural Disasters
In the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, and what it’s done to Panama City Beach and the surrounding areas, we’ve once again been reminded of what happens when a big storm hits. As a landlord, you’ve got double the responsibilities -- taking care of your home and your rental property. Before the next storm or next hurricane season, make sure you know exactly what you’re required to do as a landlord -- and what’s a good idea, even if it’s not required.
Before the Storm
While you’re not legally required to protect your rental property before the storm hits, it makes financial sense to take precautions. It’s also a good way to minimize damage and stress that you’ll have to deal with once the storm passes. Here are some things you should do before the storm hits:
● Check your lease. If you included language of tenant responsibilities prior to a storm, make sure you know exactly what they are. Remind your tenant what they’re required to do, too.
● If you’re not going to prepare the property: Provide instructions, materials, or a website to your tenants on how they can best protect the property and their own belongings.
● Urge your tenants to follow evacuation orders. For tenants with pets, make sure they know that there will be shelters who will take their pets. Having a pet shouldn’t stop them from getting out of harm’s way.
● If your tenants have renters insurance, let them know to take pictures of their belongings before the storm. This will come in handy if they need to file a claim.
● Board up windows or install hurricane shutters for the storm. Doing it yourself means you know it’s been done and your property is protected.
● Remove damaged trees or dead/old branches from the property before they can become dangerous during high-winds. Considering how prone the Emerald Coast is to storms, it’s a good idea to do this once or twice a year, well before a storm approaches.
● Check the gutters and siding and make sure they’re secure. This may help prevent them from peeling off the property and becoming additional debris.
● Ask tenants to bring in patio furniture, grills, toys, or lawn equipment. This will reduce damage to their property and yours.
After the Storm
Once the storm hits, it’s time to find out what’s going on with your property. At this point, you have certain legal responsibilities, depending on what the storm did to your rental.
Assess your property. You’re going to be responsible for making sure the building is safe and in good repair, so you need to know what damage has been done. Takes plenty of pictures for the insurance claim.
Deal with damage. If damage was minimal, you may only need to deal with the clean-up so it’s time to decide if you want to DIY it or hire professionals. If it was extensive, you need to contact your insurance provider.
You must make repairs as quickly and diligently as possible. Of course, after a hurricane, the claims process will move very slowly. Work with your tenants to help them stay safe. What happens next depends on whether the rental is uninhabitable or if your tenants can remain.
According to Florida law, if your rental property is uninhabitable, your tenant can terminate their lease without penalty and move out. If only part of the property is uninhabitable, the rent can be reduced by the fair market value of the part of the property they can’t use.
If a tenant is one you’d like to keep, and it’s financially feasible for you, you may want to consider working with them so that they come back once the rental is fixed. Depending on your insurance policy, you may be able to pay for other living accommodations for your tenants until the repairs are completed.
When a rental can still be lived in, the lease is still in place, including whatever provisions you have regarding rental payment and lease termination. But this may also be a time of financial hardship for your tenants. Most people don’t have a lot of savings, and your tenants may have used everything they had just to evacuate.
While you do have to consider your business and the expenses you have, this is also a time for compassion and empathy, especially if you want to keep your tenants long-term. You can do several things to help renters during this time:
● Waive late fees
● Offer reduced rental rates for a limited period of time
● Allow rental payments to be skipped -- with a repayment plan to allow them to make up the missed payments later, once everything is back to normal.
Whatever you decide, make sure you get it in writing so there are no questions later.
As a landlord, your responsibility is to provide a safe and functional home for your tenants. While you can’t predict the damage a natural disaster will inflict, you can control what you do before and after the storm. In big disasters that destroy properties, you have very specific legal responsibilities. But even after smaller storms, there are things you can do to help your tenants and your rental.
Need help managing your properties before or after a storm? Looking for an expert who can help you stay legal as a landlord? Contact ERA American Real Estate today. Our property management office has the resources and experience to help you weather any storm.