After a disaster, there are a lot of things going through your mind. When you’re renting a home or apartment, one of those is trying to figure out what you’re going to do now and how you’re going to get the landlord to fix everything. From the landlord’s perspective, they’re probably trying to figure out how they’re going to fix their home and the rental home you’re in. Landlord/tenant law cases are incredibly fact intensive. If you are thinking about legal action, make sure to consult a licensed attorney first. Sometimes a minor detail makes a world of difference. In the meantime, here are a few pointers to keep in mind when it comes to dealing with your residential lease after a disaster.
#1 When You Can’t Live There, You Might Be Able to Terminate the Lease:
The first thing almost every tenant thinks whenever something goes wrong at a rental property is “I’ll just threaten to break my lease!” However, that’s not always right. In Texas, if the rental property is totally unusable for residential purposes (especially after a disaster), then the landlord or the tenant can terminate the lease before any repairs are finished. The trick here is for the tenant to be able to break the lease, the tenant (or anyone related to or a guest of the tenant) cannot be responsible for the damage, and the tenant must be able to prove it. For example, a Hurricane and flooding demolishing a house all the way down to its foundation would probably meet the criteria. However, a rat infestation caused by the tenant that made disaster damage worse than it could have been, might not meet that criteria.
Keep in mind, if you’re asked to move out because the property is completely unfit for human habitation, you will probably have to go even if you want to stay. This is because the landlord could be trying to demolish the damaged structure or it’s going to take several months to make repairs.
#2 Money May Need to Change Hands:
After a disaster, if the landlord closes the property, the landlord may be required provide the security deposit and a prorated refund of rent. There are a lot of details that need to be ironed out by an attorney, though. This is because Texas law allows for different types of “remedies” or requirements on landlords at different steps of the repair process. If a landlord violates one of these requirements, they could be on the hook for more money, including the fee an attorney may charge you to take care of everything. More importantly though, there is a provision in the Texas Property Code that would require the landlord to pay for reasonable moving expenses after a disaster in addition to the pro-rated rent and security deposit. This is an incredibly fact intensive issue though, so it’s best to seek an attorney’s advice or your local legal aid office if this is the situation especially after a disaster. There’s a problem with this during a disaster though.
#3 Suing Your Landlord Could Impact FEMA Assistance:
When there is a Federal Disaster Declaration with FEMA assistance to households and individuals, sometimes FEMA will help cover the moving costs under the “Other Needs Assistance” or “ONA” Program. This type of assistance is designed to help cover things that are often missed in other programs and insurance coverage. Additionally, FEMA usually programs that provide rental assistance to individuals and families displaced from a primary residence that is “uninhabitable.” These “uninhabitable” properties are often just like the ones that could be “closed” by the landlord in the first bullet point we talked about. Here’s the kicker though: if you go off and sue your landlord, it’s really unclear whether FEMA will consider the money you get in a settlement or court order to be “duplicative benefits,” and take it away.
The Allen Firm, PC
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The Allen Firm, PC is composed of a team of attorneys located in Stephenville, Texas. Our mission is to improve people’s lives by providing reliable and practical help with their legal matters while operating under our values of honoring people, operating with integrity and striving for excellence. We offer help in forming businesses or companies, estate planning, lawsuits, real estate, probate, oil and gas, collections, agriculture, bankruptcy, family law, and accident and injuries.
*This article has been written and provided for educational purposes in an attempt to provide the reader with a general understanding of the particular topic and area of law covered in this Article. It is not to be relied upon for any purpose. The reader acknowledges the underlying analysis and legal conclusions referenced in this Article may be inaccurate by the changing of the law or by a controlling court opinion to the contrary. No attorney-client relationship exists until an appropriate engagement letter has been signed. Contact our Firm to discuss how the contents of this Article may apply to your specific situation.
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