Floods, fire, storms or other natural disasters wreak havoc on the areas that they flood, burn or blow through, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. What happens if that destruction includes serious damage to the rental property you own or rent? Baxton Property Management explains how to go about dealing with what happens to the lease agreement, and looks at the rights of the landlords, as well as the tenants involved.
If the property was destroyed by the disaster, and is no longer fit to live in, the lease does not end automatically. The most practical way for the owner to handle this, is to issue the tenant with a notice for immediate evacuation of the property. An alternative is to reach an agreement with the tenant to sign the documentation required to end the lease, or for the tenant to give the lessor two days’ notice of their intention to leave because the premises are no longer habitable.
Temporary break in occupation:
If the property was not totally destroyed, but needs repairs that could require the premises to be empty for a while, the owner is not obliged to find the tenant an alternative place to live in the meanwhile, but should assist them to do so wherever possible.
Responsibility for cleaning up
The landlord is responsible for cleaning and maintaining the property. It is advisable to liaise with local authorities as there might be clean-up projects in place, and the owner’s property can form part of it. The tenant is responsible for cleaning their own belongings.
If services are cut off because of damage to the property, it is the landlord’s responsibility to see that availability of these services is restored. If damage to the property prevents this happening, the necessary repairs must be carried out. If there was no damage, but use of the service is affected, the tenant can report the service break to the relevant authorities.
Rent may be lowered for the time being, if the tenant’s enjoyment of certain features of the property that attracted them to rent it, is affected by the disaster, but the property is still safe to live in. This would include instances such as if the swimming pool is damaged, and can’t be used until repairs are complete.
The owner cannot make claims against the tenancy bond for any repairs resulting from a natural disaster. The bond can only be used for repairs resulting from damage caused by the tenant, which would not apply in this case. In this situation, property insurance is usually the best place to claim for damage, and if you have insurance protecting your rental income, it might be worth looking at the contract to see if it covers a vacancy caused by a natural disaster.
If tenants lost possessions, it is not the landlord’s responsibility to replace them, unless it can be proved the damage was a result of the landlord’s negligence. This is one of the many reasons why tenants should have content insurance on their belongings.
If the landlord cannot be reached, and repairs could prevent further damage to the property, the tenant is entitled to have it fixed immediately. An example would be if a window was broken by a storm, and leaving it without repair would result in further damage to carpets or floors. The tenant will then pay for the repair, and claim reimbursement from the owner.
However, landlords, and tenants taking on this responsibility in their absence should watch out for imposters pretending to be part of official cleaning teams, and demanding upfront payment. The shock of disasters can result in people taking advantage of the situation. Before employing a tradesperson to start fixing the roof, or the driveway, or anything else that was damaged, contact your insurer to find out if the work will be covered by your insurance. Get quotes and check trade licenses.
Right of access:
If a property was damaged or destroyed by a natural disaster, the owner can inspect it at any time to check for any issues that may have arisen. The owner should first check that it is safe to conduct such an inspection, and inform the tenant of his or her intention to do so if they are still resident there.
Baxton Property Management Services hopes you never have to deal with the consequences of a natural disaster. However, at Baxton we believe it’s important to make as much information as possible available to our owners and their tenants regarding matters that may impact on their tenancy or investment.
Written and syndicated by
– Baxton Media.
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