Hurricane Irma is gone but the widespread damage in her wake has homeowners and renters questioning what to do next. Who is responsible for repairs? What happens if the property is so severely impacted that you must move?

A lease is the main governing document of any tenant-landlord relationship and while there’s no legal obligation for a landlord to help a tenant prepare for and recover from a natural disaster, there is a significant incentive for them to do so.

Landlords are often obligated to their insurance company to ensure their property has the appropriate level of protection. Landlords protecting their investment by default protect their tenants, but what happens after a natural disaster when the property sustains damage or is rendered untenantable?

In the case of natural disasters, the lease agreement still does not end even if the premises are destroyed. For the lease to formally terminate, one party has to take actual action to end it.

If a building is considered non-livable after a natural disaster, then the landlord still has to officially give the renter a notice that terminates the lease agreement due to the non-livable state of the building.

You have the right to reduce your rent in proportion to the damage to the unit. If your property is unlivable, you can move out. In either case, you must send a certified letter to your landlord telling him/her of your actions to protect yourself from counteraction for non-payment of rent.

If you had renter’s insurance at the time of the hurricane, contact your insurance company. If your situation is desperate, make sure you describe your situation to the insurance company. If the insurance company agrees your loss is covered, you can ask for an advance payment to cover a part of your loss.

If you did not have renter’s insurance, see if your landlord had insurance to cover your belongings. If your losses are not covered by any insurance policy, you may be able to get Individual and Household Program (IHP) money from FEMA to replace necessary items of personal property such as clothing, household items, furnishings, and appliances.

If the property is beyond repair, your landlord may have the right to terminate your lease. However, Florida law does not allow a landlord to just lock you out or turn off the utilities or to use any other “self-help” means to get you to leave. Your landlord must first give you some type of written notice of intent to terminate the lease or asking you to move before seeking eviction.

If your landlord does move to evict you they must file an eviction action in court and after the judge in your eviction case enters a final judgment you would be required to move out.

You are also entitled to the return of your security deposit. If you have a written lease, read your lease to see what it says. If you do not have a written lease, or your lease does not say anything about deposits, then the landlord must either return your deposit within 15 days after you move out or send you a letter, by certified mail, within thirty (30) days, saying why they will not return your deposit. You then have fifteen (15) days to object in writing, or the landlord will be allowed to keep the security deposit.

If you have questions about your rights as either a landlord or a tenant, contact The Kendrick Law Group at 407-641-5847 for a complimentary consultation.