Headlines about Hurricane Florence and Hurricane (or, hopefully, Tropical Storm) Olivia are blowing across Americans’ phone screens and inboxes this week. As we charge our phones, stock up on water, and do everything we can to prepare, those of us who rent our homes have an extra question. What can I do to prepare my rental home for the storm?
Before the Hurricane
Should I leave?
Check the news. At the time of writing, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia have issued some evacuation orders. If the government says to evacuate, definitely follow their instructions and start early – the traffic will be bad and many flights will be booked. Even if you don’t have an evacuation order and are in the general path of a hurricane, you may want to consider leaving. Rain, flooding, and storms can make life difficult, and the winds may cause power outages and other damage.
If I leave, do I owe rent while I’m not there?
Yes. You’re responsible for rent so long as the place is “habitable,” or suitable for living. That means there are four walls, plumbing, and working power. If you come back and the place is completely destroyed, you’re free to break your lease and live somewhere else. Otherwise, you must pay rent.
Can I board my windows and make other modifications?
Start with seeing if your lease says something about making modifications. When the lease is silent about storm prep (or if there is no lease), tenants generally can’t modify the rental in such a way that, at the end of the lease, the rental can’t be restored to its original condition. But, talk to your landlord – most of the time they’ll be happy to give permission. If you can’t get a hold of them or they refuse and you board up your windows anyways, make sure to remove the boards and repair the holes after the hurricane. Safety first, but security deposit second!
Half my building evacuated, but I haven’t. Can my landlord turn the power off?
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.” That goes for any conditions that make your apartment unsafe or structurally unsound, including having proper plumbing.
Protecting Your Deposit and Government Assistance Options
If you’re leaving, make sure to take timestamped pictures of your apartment before you leave. Also, government assistance will often require proof of your normal rent. So take with you and keep safe any rent receipts you may have.
After the Hurricane
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. You will probably have a better idea of the problems than them. Generally, landlords are legally required to fix severe problems at their cost and maintain working utilities to the extent it’s under their control. 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.
If the damage to my rental is really bad, does my landlord have to provide a different place for me to live?
That depends on the severity of the damage and your local laws. But FEMA can provide financial help to tenants and landlords alike in the wake of a storm.
If my rental is destroyed, am I responsible for the rest of my lease?
No – if your apartment is not suitable for living, you’re free to break your lease and find a new place.