Well, here we are again....same time frame, different hurricane headed to our area. We hope this repost is helpful to some of our clients and that everyone stays safe.
What can I do if the home I am renting is damaged or destroyed in a natural disaster?
If the home you are renting is damaged or destroyed by a natural disaster and normal use and occupancy of the home is “substantially impaired”, you have a couple of options:
1. You can continue to live in the home.
This is true only if it is legal to do this. If the home has been condemned or has been deemed unsafe it may not be legal for you to continue living there. If part of the home is unusable but the rest is ok, then you can move out of the part that is damaged and continue to use the rest. If you do this, then your rent should be reduced because you cannot use the entire home you were paying for. You should try to negotiate this reduction with your landlord, but you may want to speak with an attorney if you cannot come to an agreement.
If your landlord won’t make repairs, there are a couple of things that you should not do without talking to an attorney first:
- You should not stop paying rent;
- You should not make the repairs yourself and deduct the cost from rent.
2. You can immediately move out and terminate your lease.
If you decide to do this, you should notify your landlord in writing that you intend to terminate the lease. As long as you notify your landlord in writing within seven days after you move out, your lease will terminate effective the day you moved out. You should keep a copy of the letter for your records and, ideally, send it by certified mail so that you have evidence of when it was sent and when it was received. Sending notice by e-mail or text message may or may not be effective and you should rely on that only if there is no way to get a letter to your landlord.
If you do terminate your lease, your landlord should return your security deposit and any rent you have paid in advance. Your landlord has 30 days from the time you move out to return your deposit and prepaid rent. Your letter should list a forwarding address so that your landlord knows where to send your security deposit. If your landlord makes any deductions from your deposit – such as unpaid rent or damage you cause – then they should send you an itemized list of those deductions along with the remainder of your deposit, if there is any. Your landlord should not deduct the cost of repairing damage from the disaster unless somehow you caused it or allowed it to happen.
My property was also damaged in the disaster, is here anything I can do?
- If you have renter’s insurance, you should contact your insurance company as soon as possible to see if the damage is covered.
- Renter’s insurance will often cover damage or loss from a fire, theft, or tornado, but it will not normally cover damage from a flood.
- Your landlord may have hazard insurance on the property, but that usually covers just the building and not damage to your belongings. Still, you should check with your landlord to be sure.
What if I don’t have insurance or my insurance doesn’t cover the damage to my property?
- If the damage to your property is not covered by insurance, you may be able to get assistance from Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”).
- You can find out if FEMA assistance is available and apply for it by calling 1-800-621-3362 or going to www.DisasterAssistance.gov.
FEMA may also be able to help with the following:
- Vehicle repair damaged by the disaster
- Child Care Expenses as they are related to the disaster
- Rental Assistance (for those who need temporary housing while repairs are made to their primary residence)
- Assistance to help homeowners make repairs
- Replacement or purchase of medication and equipment
- Repair/Replacement of personal property (essential household items including furnishings, appliances and specialized tools/clothing required by employers)
- Moving and storage expenses to relocate personal property while repairs are made.
- FEMA cannot cover food losses.
Can Non-US Citizens apply for FEMA money? SC residents who are not U.S. Citizens may still be eligible for disaster assistance from FEMA. FEMA requires applicants to certify whether they are citizens, non-citizen nationals or qualified aliens. A qualified alien, as defined by FEMA, includes:
- Legal permanent residents (those with green cards)
- Those with refugee or asylum status
- Those whose deportation has been withheld
- Those on parole into the US for at least one year for humanitarian purposes
- Those with conditional entry
- Cuban-Haitian entrants
- Those with petitions for relief based on battery or extreme cruelty by a family member
- If a parent or guardian isn’t eligible to apply, he or she can apply on behalf of a child under 18 who qualified. Their status will not be jeopardized by requesting disaster assistance, and no information will be gathered regarding the status of others in the household.
- Undocumented immigrants who are not eligible for FEMA aid may still qualify for programs run by state, local, or voluntary agencies.