Renters and landlords, after the storm

Cleaning up after a natural disaster is no piece for cake for homeowners but things can be even more complicated for those who rent their homes, and those who do the renting. Here are some tips to help both renters and landlords.

— Is it a Dealbreaker? Generally speaking, a rental lease is only terminated (broken) when the apartment or rental unit is destroyed or made uninhabitable by a storm. If a unit is condemned by local authorities, that generally terminates a rental agreement.

— Back to Normal When an apartment or rental unit is damaged but not destroyed, landlords are required to take care of problems and return the rental property to a livable condition as soon as reasonably possible. Damaged items that were originally supplied by the landlord (stove, refrigerator, etc.) usually remain the landlord’s responsibility to fix or replace.

— A Renter’s Right If the landlord doesn’t make repairs in a reasonable period of time, a renter can go to court and seek “rent abatement.” If the damage required you to move out, the court could declare that you don’t have to pay rent. If the damage is less severe, the court may order that only a portion of the rent must be paid. However you must go to court, you can’t simply withhold some or all of your rent payment.

— Try to Work it Out When a landlord fails to make appropriate repairs, you can try to negotiate a cut in your rent without going to court. For example, the landlord may allow you to pay to fix a broken refrigerator and then subtract the cost from your next month’s rent. Or, the landlord may agree to reduce your rent for a month during which you could not use one room because of a leaky roof.

— Whose Insurance? Your landlord is generally NOT responsible for storm damage to your items that were stored inside the apartment or rented home. Renters are responsible for insuring their own possessions, which is usually done with a Renter’s Insurance policy.

If you are having difficulty coming to terms with your landlord (or your tenant), check out our Landlord/Tenant booklet to learn more about your rights and responsibilities. And if you are having problems with a landlord related to Hurricane Matthew and need legal assistance, you can contact the NC Bar Association’s legal aid hotline for storm victims.

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