In many parts of the country, more specifically in Florida, natural disasters are part of life. Property damage from these natural disasters is inevitable. Whether you are a Landlord/Property Owner, or a Tenant, you have some basic rights in Florida Statutes. In addition, your Lease Agreement may provide you extra protection. Here are some basic things to keep in mind before, during and immediately after a natural disaster if you are a Landlord or Tenant.
Understand Your Lease
Every lease is different depending on any number of different factors. Did an attorney write it? Does it comply with State Statutes?
A lease agreement sums up certain items specific to the area in which the property resides or to the residence in general. Understanding these terms can sometimes be tricky, and if you are unsure of anything do not sign the lease right away. Research the unknown terms or clauses. If you have an attorney who knows about real estate law, contact him and ask. If you do not have an attorney and are in the position to hire one, now may be a good time to do so. If not, legal aid is a very useful tool and they will speak to you over the phone briefly but may ask that you come in and show them the documents for their full understanding and further explanations for your benefit, usually at no cost to you if you qualify.
Be sure to take the time to read and understand BEFORE a natural disaster occurs, and if you already are in a lease, be sure to review it NOW, so that if and when the time comes, you will be prepared to deal with the circumstances in a pragmatic manner.
Know the state laws
This one is so important and often forgotten. There are specific laws that apply to casualties specifically. If a landlord or tenant says that cleanup and repairs after a natural disaster is the responsibility of the other party, check back with the laws and see if this is a true statement. There are always contingencies that can change the outcome, but if each party is doing his part in accordance with the law, then the answer should be clear. If the lease in any way goes against the state law, it may likely be found to be invalid or unenforceable.
Landlords should ensure their leases’ validity by comparing it to their state’s laws and if possible have a real estate attorney draft the lease up for them as these attorneys will know these laws much better than most, or at least their true interpretation. Tenants should know these as well. Again, compare them to the lease before signing and if everything matches up, keep them in your back pocket for future use.
To review Florida Specific Landlord Tenant Laws, Click Here.
Tenants - Do you have Contents, Renter, and/or Flood Insurance?
Many people are surprised to find out that the Landlord's insurance policy does not cover damages to the Tenant's property. The Landlord is not REQUIRED by law to carry such insurance. As a tenant, you can usually purchase insurance from your local insurance agent that will cover your specific needs. If you are in St. Augustine, here are a few folks you could reach out to for more information on coverages available, and price points.
In the weeks leading up to a natural disaster, many if not all insurance brokers and firms will issue what is called an insurance moratorium or a binding prohibition, often referred to as “a bind”. This means that the insurance company will put a temporary hold on writing new business or raising limits on existing policies for a period of time before and after the storm has passed. That being said if you know the Hurricane season is predicted to be a bad one and you are in an area such as Saint Augustine, it would be wise to start the search for the perfect plan before this bind would occur and it is too late.
After the disaster
Assuming you've done your homework ahead of time, while inconvenient, you should be in a good position to work with your landlord on an acceptable solution to the issues in your circumstance. Whether that means abating rent for a period of time while the property is cleaned/made safe for occupants again, or terminating the lease because the property simply won't be habitable for a long time, you will want to know your options BEFORE disaster strikes.
If you and your landlord are unable to come to an understanding about your specific circumstances, don't wait! Contact a local attorney, or legal aid as soon as reasonably possible. Document all communications with your landlord (e.g. use email, letters, or text messages in lieu of phone calls), take pictures, and be sure to keep in mind that a cool head will often prevail. Be sure to bring a copy of your lease, as well as any other documentation you have to your appointment.
If you have any questions about this blog post, or any others, be sure to Contact Us. We will be happy to answer your questions.