General Information for Renters after a Disaster
The Florida Residential Landlord and Tenant Act sets forth the rights of tenants whose rental home is damaged or destroyed for reasons other than the tenants wrongful actions. When the rental unit is substantially damaged a tenant has two options:
- If the rental unit is completely unlivable, a tenant may move out
- When only a part of the unit is unlivable, the tenant may vacate the part of the unit that is unlivable, reduce the rent by the fair market value of the part of the home that is damaged or destroyed.
The statute is not clear about how a tenant should terminate the lease or determine the amount of rent reduction. Although the statute does not require it, it would be a best practice to give a landlord written notice of your choice to either terminate the lease or reduce the rent based on the part of the home that is unlivable. A landlord is not required to find alternative housing for a tenant if the unit is uninhabitable.
The right to terminate a tenancy for damage caused by a disaster or other casualty is given to the tenant, not the landlord. If the tenant stays in the unit, then the landlord has an obligation to maintain the property as required by law.
FEMA Assistance and Renters
FEMA provides financial assistance and direct services to eligible individuals and households as a part of the Individuals and Households Program. There are two categories of IHP assistance: Housing Assistance and Other Needs Assistance (ONA).
- Housing Assistance - For renters, financial Housing Assistance may include, Lodging Expense Reimbursement (LER) for hotel motels or other short term lodging while a renter is displaced from their primary residence or Rental Assistance to rent alternate housing accommodations while a renter is displaced from their primary residence.
- Other Needs Assistance - Renters may receive financial assistance for other disaster caused expenses and/or serious needs. There are two types of Other Needs Assistance, one is dependent on the applicant's ability to secure a SBA disaster loan and the other is non-dependent on securing a SBA loan. Only applicants who do not qualify for a loan from the SBA may be eligible for assistance for the SBA-dependent category. SBA-dependent ONA includes Personal Property Assistance, Transportation Assistance, and Group Flood Insurance Policy (GFIP). Non-SBA-dependent types of ONA may be awarded regardless of the applicant’s SBA status and may include Funeral Assistance, Medical and Dental Assistance, Child Care Assistance, Assistance for Miscellaneous Items, Moving and Storage Assistance, Critical Needs Assistance, and Clean and Removal Assistance. For more information take a look at the Individual Assistance Program and Policy Guide (IAPPG) Version 1.1, May 2020.
- My apartment is in really bad shape after the hurricane, do I have to pay rent? Yes, if you continue to live in the apartment. But if your apartment is unlivable, then you can move out and you won't be responsible for paying rent. If you can continue to live in the apartment, you can reduce the rent based on the part of the apartment that is unlivable. It is best to talk to your landlord before moving out or reducing the rent. Although it is not required, it is a best practice to give your landlord written notice of your decision.
- Doesn't my landlord have to talk to me about my apartment damage? No. If that occurs, send your landlord a certified letter telling him or her of your actions. For more information on what you can do consider contacting an attorney or Legal Services of North Florida, Inc. for recommendations for what you can do based on your specific situation.
- All of my stuff was destroyed when the roof fell in on my rental apartment, does my landlord have to compensate me for the loss of my personal items? No. If you have renters insurance contact your insurance company and file a claim. If you do not have renter's insurance you may be able to get help money from FEMA to replace necessary items of personal property. such as clothing, household items, furniture and appliances. If FEMA has authorized Individual Assistance you may apply for those benefits by calling 800-621-3363, by applying online or with FEMA's mobile app or visiting a Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) to apply.
- My landlord told me to move out of the apartment so a family member of his could move in or he would change the locks on the apartment and lock me out. Can he do that? No. Under Florida law a landlord cannot lock you out or turn off utilities or use any other "self help" eviction tactics. The landlord must give you a written notice and then must file an eviction action in court and then you only have to move out after the judge enters a final judgment of eviction. If you get any eviction court papers, call Legal Services of North Florida, Inc. for information on how to respond to to the eviction lawsuit.
- Can I do anything if the landlord does lock me out? Yes. You can call the police and then contact a lawyer about an action for damages against your landlord.
- After the hurricane my apartment is unlivable and I'm going to move out, can I get my security deposit returned? Yes. First, if you have a lease read your lease to see what it says about the return of security deposits. If you don't have a lease or your lease doesn't say anything about security deposits, then your landlord must return your deposit within 15 days after you move out or send you a letter by certified mail, within 30 days giving you the reasons he will not return the security deposit. You have 15 days to object in writing to the landlord. Before you move out, you must give your landlord your new address. If you disagree with your landlord and need help to get your deposit back, you can contact Legal Services of North Florida, Inc.