Tenant Rights After Storm Damage
Written by AskTheLawyers.com™
The winter storms of 2021 resulted in more than just temporary losses of water, heat, and power. Some apartment complexes experienced significant water damage from burst pipes, as well as leaks from melting snow and ice; in many places and particularly in older apartment complexes, this led to structural damage and/or allowed for the development or exacerbation of mold growth in the unit.
Unfortunately, this has resulted in some tenants receiving eviction notices for catastrophic weather damage and/or being forced to live in untenable conditions during demolition and repairs. This brings up the question of tenant rights; what rights does a tenant have after a storm damages their unit?
Most leases include a section describing what the complex will do in the event of a natural disaster or catastrophe.
If a tenant’s lease does not contain this information, the tenant does not have a copy of the lease, or the lease was oral rather than in writing, the landlord is still required to perform timely repairs in the event of storm or other damage. If the repairs are so extensive that residents cannot continue to live in the unit while work is being performed, a landlord may offer residents the opportunity to transfer to a new unit or to terminate the lease without penalty. However, if the residents choose to transfer to a new unit, the new unit should cost no more than the original and should not be taken as a renewal or addition to the original lease. Additionally, prorated rent should be returned to the tenant if they choose to leave the complex.
Landlords may be able to evict tenants due to extensive storm damage.
In some cases a landlord may serve a tenant with a notice to vacate which typically gives the tenant 7 days to move themself and their belongings out of the unit; however, there are specific rules they must follow in this process. Additionally, while this should not count as an “eviction” on the tenant’s rental history, it can be extremely inconvenient nonetheless.
Trouble may arise when a tenant’s rights were disregarded in one or more ways during this process. For example, if the tenant was not given reasonable notice to move out before work begins, or if the complex refuses to return rent for the remainder of the month the unit was unlivable, it is quite possible that a violation of the tenant’s rights occurred.
If you suspect your rights as a tenant have been violated, you have options.
While tenant-landlord attorneys typically charge on an hourly basis, making it a potentially difficult choice to hire one if money is already tight, your community may offer helpful resources. Your city may have a tenant council that can provide you with area-specific resources for legal counsel and potential representation.
For example, in Austin, Texas—an area heavily affected by the February 2021 storms—affected residents can visit the Austin Tenants Council website to submit an inquiry about their situation and receive personalized resources potentially including volunteer legal directories, lawyer referrals, and general information about tenant rights. While the law can vary from state to state regarding tenant-landlord relationships, landlords and property management are obligated to provide reasonably safe accommodations and provide notice before a unit becomes unlivable or an eviction begins.
To learn more about tenant rights after a storm or to discuss your particular situation, reach out to a tenant-landlord attorney or resource organization in your area.