Here are some of the common legal questions that come up after a hurricane in Florida.
This blog is provided for general information only. Always talk to a laywer or other appropriate professional before making decisions.
Does a landlord have to give a rent credit for mandatory evacuations?
Florida law generally doesn’t require landlords to reduce rent during mandatory evacuations ordered by the government. The law generally doesn’t recognize government-ordered evacuations as something the landlord is responsible for.
Tenants continue to receive the benefit of storing their personal property inside of the rental unit during the evacuation. The landlord also generally can’t do anything if the tenant refuses to evacuate.
Landlords may be responsible for giving a rent credit in situations where the landlord tells the tenant to evacuate. For this reason, many landlords only give notices that tell tenants to monitor announcements from the city or county rather than telling tenants that an evacuation is in effect.
Does a landlord have to give a rent credit during power outages?
Florida law generally doesn’t hold landlords responsible for power outages outside of their control. This is different from other states where landlords may have to give rent credits during any prolonged power outage.
Most power outages after a hurricane are caused by damage to power lines and other parts of the power grid. Most repairs are the responsibility of the power company.
Florida tenants generally aren’t entitled to rent credits if the power company is responsible for repairs even if the repairs take several days or weeks.
Landlords do have a duty to make reasonable efforts to quickly repair any damage the property owner is responsible for. This might include circuit breakers or wiring damaged by power surges from lightning or by flooding. Tenants may be entitled to reduced rent if a court finds the landlord didn’t make reasonable efforts to restore power in a timely manner.
In case of prolonged power outages lasting several weeks or longer, tenants may be entitled to break their lease even if the issue is outside of the landlord’s control. If your landlord won’t agree to break your lease without penalty, ask a lawyer if you’re legally entitled to break your lease.
What happens if your rental unit is damaged or destroyed?
If a rental unit is damaged, the landlord is generally responsible for making repairs within a reasonable timeline. In cases of serious damage that makes the rental unit uninhabitable and can’t be repaired in a reasonable time, both the landlord and tenant often have the unilateral right to terminate the lease.
In most situations, the landlord doesn’t have to offer alternative housing or cover any additional expenses. Some renter’s insurance policies cover moving expenses and other costs associated with moving out of a rental home damaged by a hurricane or other disaster.
If you paid rent ahead of time and your rental unit becomes uninhabitable, you’re generally entitled to a refund. For example, if a hurricane destroys your home on the 1st and you already paid rent for that month, you can typically get that month’s rent back. As a practical matter to avoid having problems getting a refund, you may want to delay paying until the storm passes if you’ll still be within the grace period.
What if your landlord won’t let you retrieve your belongings?
It’s increasingly common after a hurricane or other disaster for a landlord to not let tenants return to a rental unit that suffered major damage. This includes refusing tenants to move their belongings out.
Landlords often cite insurance requirements or other safety issues. Once the tenant stops paying rent because he’s not allowed to return, the landlord also frequently says the tenant is no longer a paying tenant, has vacated the property, and has abandoned any personal property.
This is a very complex situation where both landlords and tenants may have legitimate concerns. Tenants should contact their renter’s insurance company, explain the situation, and ask if the insurance company will cover any property the tenant can’t access.
If you have sentimental items or belongings not covered by insurance, you should contact a lawyer as quickly as possible and preferably before you stop paying rent. Don’t sign papers agreeing to vacate until you talk to a lawyer as you may waive the right to retrieve your property if you sign.
Can landlords evict a tenant during a hurricane?
Before a hurricane, local authorities may temporarily delay evictions for a few days before and after the storm. There is no set law on this, so it will depend on what the local government does for each storm.
There is also generally no rent freeze or rent extension provided by law due to a hurricane. You should pay your rent by the usual due date or make other arrangements with your landlord.