Renters should prepare for disaster. Here’s what to do after a storm, flood or wildfire.

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As of October of this year, the US has experienced 18 weather and climate disaster events, each causing more than $1 billion in damages. These events include one drought, two floods, nine severe storms, four tropical cyclones, one wildfire and one winter storm.Climate Data Center.

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Whether it’s a renter or a homeowner, preparation is key, says Jeffrey Hussey, director of public interest and litigation at the nonprofit law firm Mid-Florida’s Community Legal Services.

“Mistakes can happen if you rush or panic,” he says. “If you are prepared and have a plan, you can reduce the impact of a natural disaster on yourself and your family.”

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For renters dealing with the aftermath of a natural disaster, whether it’s an apartment or home that’s been damaged or destroyed, here’s what to consider before and after disaster strikes as provided by Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida Here are some tips:

contact your landlord

Inspect your dwelling as soon as it is safe to find out what damage has been done and notify your landlord of the property damage. Your landlord can arrange for repairmen to come into the property. Ask your landlord to keep you informed of plans and timelines for repairs.

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The best way to notify your landlord is with a written request for repairs. In your request, ask how long it will take for the repair to be completed. Mail your written repair request using certified mail with a return receipt or a service that tracks delivery (UPS, FedEx, USPS Mail). Keep the return receipt for your records.

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understand your lease

You should reread your lease to understand the repairs that you and the landlord are responsible for making on the residence. If you do not have a copy of your lease, ask your landlord for one.

When a disaster strikes, the most important terms in your lease are the rent reduction or lease termination provisions. You have the right to terminate your lease if a significant portion of the property is damaged or becomes completely unusable. You also have the right to reduce the rent until the property is completely repaired.

rent reduction: This is a term in your lease that says that in the event of damage to the property, the landlord will allow you (the tenant) to suspend payment of rent or pay a portion of the rent until the property is repaired.

lease termination: A lease agreement does not end just because a disaster has occurred. Either you or your landlord must act to formally terminate the lease. Even if your building is not habitable, your landlord must give you official notice that terminates the lease agreement. If you or the landlord chooses to terminate the lease, you are entitled to a refund of the rent paid from the date you move out, and a return of your security deposit, minus any valid deductions. Huh.

If you live in an apartment complex, your landlord may offer to move you to another damaged unit. If you decide to move to another entity, you do not need to sign the lease for a period longer than the term of your original lease. If you do not vacate (for example, you disagree that the property is uninhabited), the landlord must go through a court process to evict you.

getting your security deposit back

If you have a written lease, read your lease to see what it says about getting your security deposit back after you move out due to disaster. If you don’t have a written lease, or your lease says nothing about this type of event, the landlord must either return your deposit (the time limit may depend on the state) or send you a letter. Explaining the reason why they will not refund your deposit.

Before leaving your apartment, you must give your new address to your landlord. If you and your landlord disagree about whether you should get your deposit back, you can call in an attorney for assistance.

‘Inhabitable’ rental property

A rental property that is completely unusable for residential purposes is considered “uninhabited”. When your residence is uninhabited, you or your landlord can terminate the lease by giving written notice at any time before the repair is complete.

Try negotiating a suspension or reduction in rent, but unless your lease allows it or you live in public housing, you can only get a reduced rent if the landlord is able to make the repairs you requested. fails, and then you sue your landlord.

If you terminate your lease, you are only responsible for pro-rata rent as of the date you move. You will still have to pay any fees accrued up to that point, including past due rent.

Make a written and dated request for the return of your security deposit with a forwarding address where it can be sent. You should know that if there is property damage that is not caused by a disaster and is not caused by normal wear and tear, your landlord may withhold some or all of your deposit. If your security deposit is withheld, your landlord must provide a written, itemized account of the repair cost.

The landslide caused by Hurricane Ida sits behind an apartment complex in West Orange, NJ.  While only a few units were damaged, all the tenants were asked to vacate the premises.

partially disused rental property

A leased property is partially unusable for residential purposes if you can still live there while repairs are being made. If the leased property is only partially unusable, you are not only entitled to terminate the lease, but you may be entitled to a partial rent reduction.

Your priority in this case would be to ensure that you have requested your landlord for proper repairs so that your landlord is obligated to fix your house/apartment. At that point, you may have the right to reduce the rent you are entitled to.

If the property was insured, your landlord is not required to begin repairs until the money is received from the insurance company.

If you live on the property, you must continue to pay rent as per your lease. You can ask your landlord to reduce your rent because you are not getting full use of the property.

If your landlord agrees to a temporary rent reduction, get a written, signed agreement. If you can’t agree to the deduction and the lease doesn’t prohibit the deduction of rent, you can sue your landlord to get a court order for the reduced rent.

damaged or destroyed personal items

The landlord is not responsible for loss or damage to your personal belongings. The landlord is only responsible for the housing unit, not your property inside the unit – unless your lease states otherwise.

If you had renter’s insurance at the time of the disaster, contact your insurance company. If your area has received a major “disaster declaration,” you will be eligible for certain FEMA services.

If your loss is not covered by an insurance policy, you may be able to get personal and household program (IHP) money from FEMA to cover essential items of personal property such as clothing, household items, furnishings. and replace equipment. You can apply for these benefits through FEMA at 1-800-621-3362 (1-800-427-5593) or online at www.disasterassistance.gov.

Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy is a housing and economy reporter for USA Today. Follow him on Twitter @SwapnaVenugopal

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