Hurricane Michael: Tenant Rights and Who Pays for What

It seems like just yesterday we wrote about Hurricane Florence. Here’s what panhandle and Georgian renters need to know…

What if my apartment gets damaged?

First, take lots of pictures (RenterPeace can help keep your documentation organized). Then make sure to tell your landlord about all the damages, even minor ones. They probably have tons of properties and don’t have time to do deep walkthroughs of every single place – by proactively telling them about the problems, you make sure that you’re a priority. In every state except for Arkansas, landlords are legally required to fix severe problems at their cost and maintain working utilities to the extent it’s under their control – this includes Florida and Georgia. Check RenterPeace for laws on whether the landlord needs to fix specific problems. Make sure to remind your landlord that FEMA may cover the cost of some of the damages.

I smell a gas leak

Safety first – don’t move back in. A spark may be able to cause an explosion, and the gas may itself be toxic. Landlords are legally required to keep apartments safe for living. If they don’t (whether it’s their fault or the hurricane’s fault), you are freed from your lease. So you can break your lease and move to a different apartment. Just give your landlord some notice as required by your state’s law. Alternatively, you can stay somewhere else while your landlord fixes the problem, and rely on FEMA to pay for your temporary housing. Visit the law page about toxic gases on RenterPeace for more information.

My landlord is refusing to turn the power on

As long as you’re living in your apartment and it’s safe to have the power on, your landlord is required to make sure it’s on. If you lose power in the storm and your landlord refuses to restore it, you can break your lease under your state’s “implied warranty of habitability” (Florida and Georgia both have this rule). You can break your lease for any conditions that make your apartment unsafe or structurally unsound, including having proper plumbing.

Who pays for the stuff in my house that got ruined?

Unfortunately, you’re responsible for the shoes that got ruined, clothes, and TV – anything that’s yours. Your landlord is not responsible for the costs of any your belongings destroyed by a natural disaster. To avoid this kind of scenario, renters should have purchased renter’s insurance.

Do I need to keep paying rent?

If the place in “uninhabitable,” then no. That means that the apartment is not suitable for living. A good rule of thumb is if you were to list the place on Craigslist with full disclosure of the problems there, no reasonable person would choose to live there today. You’re not required to pay rent if it’s that bad. Make sure to keep documentati0n of why the place is unsafe with timestamped pictures. Of course, moving sucks so you may want to see if your landlord is willing to pay for temporary housing while they fix these problems. Landlords should have kept insurance for this kind of damage, and sometimes FEMA provides aid to small businesses.

If my place is trashed, what about the deposit?

Legally, your landlord is required to return your deposit if they violated the “implied warranty of habitability.” By law, they’re required to provide you with safe, livable housing and if they fail to do so, they violated the lease. That counts even if it’s not their fault (this is why many landlords get insurance for natural disasters).

However, your landlord may try to stiff you on the deposit. Make sure to take timestamped pictures of the damages as evidence. Also, take pictures of and keep safe any rent receipts you may have. You may need to take them to small claims or housing court to recover your deposit. Most tenants go there without a lawyer – these courts are for more like Judge Judy, where lawyers are optional (get a lawyer if you can, but we’re being realistic here). This evidence (especially the rent receipts) will also be helpful if you file a claim with FEMA.

If your landlord refuses to return your deposit, you can hold them accountable by posting in your renter guestbook on RenterPeace. This will help warn future tenants of the landlord, holding them accountable.

What does FEMA cover?

Quite a bit. FEMA can cover the costs of temporary housing, it can help landlords make repairs, and more. See here:

Does my landlord have to provide temporary housing while they fix stuff?

If your place in unlivable, then you’re free to break the lease. Often, landlords will offer to pay for temporary housing to avoid that. Additionally, some landlord insurance programs offer them funds to pay for temporary relocation while the landlord fixes stuff. Sometimes city and county laws legally require it. FEMA can provide temporary relocation help to tenants and landlords alike in the wake of a storm.

More Questions?

Ask the renter community on RenterPeace or look up your problem in its massive law library. There’s a reason RenterPeace was selected as “best of” legal apps by Product Hunt staff.


Renterpeace is the #1 online community  for renters with a number of renter help tools. 

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