As a tenant, the first thing you should do is determine whether the place you rent is reasonably still livable or not. If you haven’t been back to your place, call your landlord to determine this. If it’s unlivable, determine if it’s safe to pick up your belongings and make a plan.
If your rental unit is unlivable:
- You OR your landlord have the option to terminate the lease (in writing). Either party can do this. If this happens, you are entitled to a pro-rated refund of any rent you’ve paid beyond the day you move out and a return of your security deposit (minus any deductions). A legal aid attorney can help you terminate your lease. Call 1-800-504-7030 or visit http://lonestarlegal.org/.
- If you decide to terminate your lease, document all damage in case your landlord contests your determination of the property as unlivable and you end up in court.
- If you move out, send written notice of your move-out date to your landlord so that you can secure your pro-rated rent refund.
- Your landlord can offer you an undamaged unit if they own a complex, but you are not obligated to sign a lease that extends beyond the timeframe of your original lease and you are not obligated to take the unit at all.
- FEMA may provide assistance with up to two months rent at a new place if you must move because of disaster damage, so be sure to apply for FEMA assistance even if you are a renter.
If your rental unit is damaged but livable:
You cannot terminate your lease, but you can seek repairs and a rent reduction.
- The first thing you should do is make appropriate written requests to your landlord to repair any damage.
- If you send this by mail, send it certified or another way that can be tracked so that you can ensure it is received.
- Once your request is received, your landlord has a “reasonable amount of time” to make repairs. This isn’t defined, and may be longer than usual in the event of a disaster.
- If you feel that repairs are not being made in a reasonable amount of time, you should send your landlord a written request for an explanation of the delay. If your landlord does not respond within 5 days, you can file a lawsuit.
If your landlord still does not make timely and adequate repairs, you have several options:
- Terminate the lease with notice and reason and move out (without a lawsuit).
- File a lawsuit (which you can do even if you also terminate the lease and move out, to receive compensation).
- Make repairs yourself. This sounds appealing but should be used as a last resort as the process is complex and it is very possible that you will do something wrong and you will have spent your own money to fix the property with no obligation to have it repaid.
- You may be entitled to a reduction in your rent. Check your lease for any mention of rent reductions in the case of natural disasters. If it is not explicitly waived, you are entitled to this reduction.
- If you are seeking a rent reduction, you can use a form letter to request this from your landlord, and you can use a form agreement to put this in writing. There are no mechanisms for determining the amount to reduce your rent, so you should seek to come to a reasonable agreement with your landlord.
- If your landlord does not agree, you can go to court to seek a rent reduction. You must file this lawsuit in a district or county court (not small claims court) and will likely need to hire a lawyer.
- Do not unilaterally reduce your rental payments until you have an agreement in writing or a court order. If you pay less than your rental amount, you may get evicted and sued for unpaid rent.