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What Landlords Should Know About Minimizing Loss After Natural Disasters

Most areas in the United States are no stranger to natural calamities such as hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, storm surges, and more. If the disaster happened in your area, as a landlord you’re concerned about avoiding a loss of income. But before you even collect rent from tenants, first understand that certain events like these can make you liable.

To help you protect your rental property business while minimizing legal responsibility, we’ve addressed your pressing questions.

Should you collect rent after a natural disaster?

This is a difficult question since laws regarding rent payments differ from state to state. However, as a landlord, you are responsible for making sure that the apartment is habitable. This means that you should reduce the rent accordingly, depending on the severity of the damage. For example, offline HVAC systems, standing water, and mold.

As you can see, adhering to the lease agreement isn’t the best solution to reduce income loss during natural disasters. When heating and cooling systems do not work, you may also need to provide temporary alternatives to keep tenants comfortable.

Do late fees apply?

If you are adopting a strict policy of charging late rent fees and your area has been affected by the disaster, you may want to reconsider. Whether to charge late fees or not varies on the situation at hand. One scenario is that renters won’t be able to make it back to the rental on time especially if they lack sufficient money following an ordered evacuation.

How can you be held liable?

Let’s discuss three other situations that can make you liable during the aftermath of natural disasters:

  • If you demand rent but collect insurance proceeds or other aid at the same time. In case you have a property manager or staff looking out for your rental, be sure to inform them about this possible conflict. 
  • The condition of the rental before the natural disaster took place can hamper your tenant’s safety. If your rental was in poor condition and more than one tenant sustained injuries (or died), you may face a lawsuit.
  • If your rental happens to be outside the danger zones and you charge exorbitant prices to take advantage of displaced people, you may be violating laws against price gouging.

The Importance of Preparation

Life isn’t easy for landlords and tenants during natural disasters. To prepare for such situations, landlords should use these tips:

  • Require your renters to get insurance that covers natural disasters.
  • Design a well-thought-out emergency plan (escape route, safety resources, and utility shut-off)
  • Understand your insurance policy and identify what’s covered and what’s not.

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