Tips for Landlords to Weather the Storm of Natural Disasters
October 25th, 2017 | By: William J. Trudgeon, Esq.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Considering the recent disasters in Texas and Florida caused by hurricanes Harvey and Irma, we are reminded how important it is to be prepared for the potential impact on your rental properties and your tenants.
Nobody can predict the future but there are precautions that landlords and property owners can take to mitigate the effects of a natural disaster. Certainly, a landlord should be familiar with their insurance policy and its coverage as to “Act of God” events. Then, after an assessment of your region’s vulnerability to a natural disaster, you may decide to purchase additional coverage to protect your property. Also, since flooding is a specific carve out, this too should be specifically assessed.
Although typically a landlord is not responsible for damage to a tenant’s personal property after a natural disaster, nonetheless safeguarding against this should serve to reinforce the value of requiring tenants to carry their own renter’s insurance. You can also add language to your lease agreement that covers the rights of landlords and tenants if the rental unit is partially or completely destroyed because of this type of event.
Another precaution is to assess the structural integrity of your rental property. For example, in hurricane or tornado plagued regions, you may consider replacing standard windows with impact resistant glass and installing hurricane shutters. Additionally, you may wish to consider maintaining emergency kits at your property tailored to your region’s needs. An emergency kit can be stocked with many different items including the basics such as food and water to batteries, medication and cash. More information regarding emergency kits can be found at the Department of Homeland Security website. https://www.ready.gov/build-a-kit.
Generally, Landlords are required to provide housing that is fit for the intended use of the parties and to maintain the premises in reasonable repair for the duration of the landlord/tenant relationship. A violation of these requirements can rise to the level of “constructive eviction” of a tenant and render the lease agreement “null and void.” If a rental property is affected by a natural disaster, it is likely that some or all of the property will be rendered uninhabitable. In this scenario, although it is unlikely that a landlord would be required to find replacement housing for their tenants, you must make reasonable repairs necessary to return the property to a habitable condition if possible. A standard “force majeure” clause in a lease can relieve the parties from performing the lease obligations when circumstances such as a natural disaster make performance impracticable or impossible.
The Bottom Line: When it comes to natural disasters, one can never be too prepared. Make sure you have addressed safeguards and always consult with your general liability insurance carrier as well as your attorney.
Additional Resources for Landlords:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Natural Disasters and Severe Weather https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/index.html
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) https://www.fema.gov/
USA.gov Disasters and Emergencies https://www.usa.gov/disasters-and-emergencies
Red Cross: Prepare for an Emergency http://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies
State of MI Emergency Management Association https://www.memaonline.org/
State of OH Emergency Management Agency http://ema.ohio.gov/