The Landlord’s Essential Guide to Hurricane Prep
In Florida, hurricane season runs June through November of each year, although severe storms can hit the state at any time. Hurricanes are something that landlords and renters alike must deal with. As a property owner, you may be wondering what your role is both before and after disaster strikes.
How To Communicate With Your Tenants About Hurricanes
When it comes to preparing for severe weather, many renters automatically assume that it’s up to the landlord to protect their homes – but that’s not the case. In Florida, there is no law that requires landlords to protect their rental properties (or tenants) from hurricanes or other natural disasters. Tenants are responsible for protecting their personal possessions.
In the days leading up to the storm, communication with your tenants is key. Email or phone calls are the quickest way to communicate but mailing a letter works too, as long as it arrives quickly. Some landlords provide hurricane instructions at tenant move-in.
Providing guidance for hurricane preparedness, and reminding them to secure their own possessions, can help protect your property and keep your renters safe – a gesture they are sure to appreciate and that is, ultimately, in your best interest.
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While it is up to your tenants to take responsibility for their own possessions and personal safety, as the property owner you have a vested interest in the property. It is in your best interest to provide your renters with instructions on how to prepare their rental for an oncoming storm.
Property owners who self-manage their properties may choose to send out a letter at the beginning of every hurricane season, followed up by a reminder email when a hurricane is actually on the way. Topics to cover might include property preparation, evacuation procedures, and emergency contact information.
At Resolute Property Management, we send a hurricane preparedness letter to our tenants at the start of every hurricane season. Our letter covers the following:
- Reminds tenants that we live in Florida, that hurricanes are a frequent occurrence, and that they (as tenants) have some responsibilities to address in case of a natural disaster.
- Includes instructions and tips for getting prepared for potential storms.
- If our geographic area is projected to be in the path of a named storm, we send out a notice to the tenants to alert them, tell them to call 911 in case of a life-threatening emergency.
- Remind them how to report maintenance issues.
- Remind them of their responsibilities to protect the home.
We follow this with a message to our clients, letting them know that we have communicated with the tenants and reminding them of our post-storm procedures.
Our post-storm procedures include reaching out to the tenants to request confirmation of any impact from the storm. We also conduct our own visual exterior check of the property, once it is safe to travel the roads. If we see any obvious damages, they will be reported to the owner. We will also take photos and send them to the property owner. Our team can coordinate insurance inspections and repairs.
If you are self-managing the property and not using a property management company, one of the most important topics you should cover in your letter/email are instructions for property preparation. Knowing how to get the home ready for an oncoming hurricane will not only help keep your property safe but will help keep your tenants safe as well. Here are some of the tasks they should handle:
- Remove any air conditioners, fans, or other objects from the windows and make sure they are securely shut
- Secure any loose objects in the yard, such as potted plants, lawn furniture, grills, or children’s toys
- Clean out gutters and storm drains to help avoid leaks and flooding
- Park vehicles under cover, if possible, and make sure gas tanks are full
- Bring all pets indoors
- Ask them to make you aware of any hanging tree limbs or branches close to the house so they can be dealt with BEFORE the storm
- Take photos of the property before the storm arrives to provide to their Renter’s Insurance company if necessary
Storm Preparation and Supplies
Give your tenants an idea of what to expect during and after the storm. Many of them, (especially if they moved here from out-of-state) may have never experienced a hurricane before. They need to be ready to spend a few days indoors with no access to food, resources, or other people – and they should be aware that there is a high likelihood of power, water, and gas loss.
Your tenants will appreciate it if you give them instructions for a basic survival kit, which can make waiting out a storm much more tolerable. Some of the basic items you can suggest include:
- One gallon of water per person, per day (plan for three days)
- A 3-day supply of non-perishable food items (such as peanut butter and jelly, canned fruits and vegetables, protein bars, beef jerky, and other shelf-stable foods)
- Suggest filling tubs and sinks with water to use for flushing the toilet
- Flashlights and batteries, battery operated torches, or candles and matches
- Emergency cell phone chargers
- Duct tape
- A basic tool kit, in case small repairs need to be made
- A hand-crank or battery-powered radio
- Extra cash
- First aid kit
- Books, games, and other toys to occupy children
- Copies of critical documents in case of evacuation
- Direct renters to the National Hurricane Center, Red Cross, or gov for further safety information
Note: Remind tenants that while you do want them to be comfortable in their homes, contractors and utility companies are likely to be extremely busy post-storm. Repairs may take much longer than usual.
Emergency Contact Information
Provide your tenants with a list of important information including:
- Your cell phone number
- The location and phone number of the nearest hurricane shelter
- Local police department
- Local fire department
- Map of evacuation routes
Check in Frequently
If you’re self-managing your property, it’s important to check in with your tenants frequently throughout the storm. A simple “Just wanted to check in and make sure everything is ok” is more than sufficient. This will allow tenants to keep you abreast of what’s going on and let you know if they are having any issues.
What Happens if the Home Becomes Uninhabitable?
If a hurricane destroys your property to the point that it is deemed unlivable, Florida law states that “If the premises are damaged or destroyed other than by the wrongful or negligent acts of the tenant so that the enjoyment of the premises is substantially impaired, the tenant may terminate the rental agreement and immediately vacate the premises. The tenant may vacate the part of the premises rendered unusable by the casualty, in which case the tenant’s liability for rent shall be reduced by the fair rental value of that part of the premises damaged or destroyed. If the rental agreement is terminated, the landlord shall comply.”
How to Handle Repairs
In the case that the home is heavily damaged, but still habitable, it is your responsibility to have it repaired as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the process of filing for claims can take an extremely long time in the event of a natural disaster. With so many claims coming in, insurance companies are going to be completely bogged down trying to handle them all.
In most cases, the landlord has to pay for any repairs up front and then submit to the insurance company for reimbursement later. What and how much they end up covering will depend on what type of policy you own and how much insurance you carry.
It’s also important to keep in mind that a hurricane may cause your tenants to miss work for an extended period. For people who may already live paycheck-to-paycheck, this can make paying rent difficult if not impossible. If they were in good standing prior to the disaster, try to work with them on a payment plan to help them catch up.
Note: Renters facing financial difficulty may be able to apply to FEMA for assistance.
Preparing for a storm before it arrives is easier than handling repairs after the damage is done. For those landlords who self-manage their own properties, sending out client communications and taking preventative measures may take time (and money), but hurricane damage will cost much more.