The Texas Apartment Association has helpful tips and resources to help members cope with crises and limit their impact.
- Review your insurance policy. Keep key insurance numbers on hand, like your policy number and the phone number to call to report a claim. You may need a separate policy to cover flood damage.
- Don’t rely on having access to electronic documents.
- Keep residents informed during the aftermath of a disaster at your property. TAA REDBOOK forms are helpful in these situations.
- Keep good records of your actions during and after a crisis.
- Understand lease provisions that apply in crisis situations.
Planning what you’ll do before a disaster strikes means you can focus on addressing the crises directly and immediately, instead of expending your energy trying to figure out what to do. Below are a few tips and reminders to help you deal with a disaster, as well as resources from the TAA REDBOOK.
Prepare—Get your documents in order. Read your insurance policy. Know your policy number and the number to call to report a claim. Other numbers to keep on hand are attorneys, brokers, agents, managers and maintenance.
Know the top three restoration companies you will call for major events including floods, fire, smoke, hurricanes and tornados with structural damage. Keep hard copies of important documents. Do not rely on access to electronic documents.
- Insurance tip: Know which perils are covered under your policy. More than likely, floods are not covered and you will need to purchase this policy separately.
- Insurance tip: Encourage or require renter’s insurance—it protects residents’ personal property.
Notify & educate—Communicate with your residents early and keep them informed throughout the restoration process. Use the sample notice on page 678 of the 2016 TAA REDBOOK to notify your residents of a catastrophe to help you and your residents understand the rights and obligations of each party.
Understand your rights and obligations under the lease—Pertinent lease provisions are Paragraphs 8, 26, 28 and 31. The TAA REDBOOK forms that directly address disasters and accommodating individuals can be found on pages 677-684 of the 2016-2017 version.
- Paragraph 8 states that the owner’s insurance policy does not cover loss to personal property and allows owners to check boxes to indicate whether or not residents are required to buy renter’s insurance. If neither box is checked, the default is that they are not required to obtain insurance coverage but are encouraged to do so.
- Paragraph 26 imposes a duty on the rental property owner to “act with customary diligence to make repairs and reconnections, taking into consideration when casualty insurance proceeds are received.” It specifically states that the owner has the right to turn off utilities as needed to avoid property damage or to perform work. It also states, “Rent will not abate in whole or in part.” Of course, you can voluntarily abate all or part of the rent as a gesture of goodwill and compassion. The last part of paragraph 26 can prove helpful if a resident refuses to comply with your request that she vacate the premises so you can repair the unit. Paragraph 26.5 is the owner’s contractual right to terminate by giving at least five days written notice (see lease termination below).
- Paragraph 28. If you need to remove the resident’s personal possessions after a casualty loss, you may exercise your rights under paragraph 28, which allows entry into the unit according to the procedures set forth in the paragraph for reasonable business purposes. If no one is in the dwelling, you may enter for any of the reasons listed in this paragraph, but you must leave written notice of your entry in a conspicuous place in the dwelling immediately after you enter (preferably taped to the inside of the main entry door). Do not wait until you leave to post the notice.
- Paragraph 31 discusses an owner’s duties and summarizes the habitability statute requirements. It requires owners to keep common areas reasonably clean; maintain fixtures, furniture, hot water, heat and a/c; substantially comply with applicable laws; and make reasonable repairs. If the owner does not comply, then the resident can terminate the lease under the habitability statute if: (1) the resident gives two separate notices to the owner (the second of which must be in writing) or the resident gives a single written notice by certified mail; and (2) after receipt of those notices, the owner fails to repair or remedy in a reasonable time.
- Lease termination. Paragraph 26 as well as Section 92.054 of the Texas Property Code gives you the right to terminate the lease if the rental premises as a practical matter has become totally unusable for residential purposes after a casualty loss, and the casualty loss was not caused by the negligence of the party seeking termination. Use the form “Termination Notice Due to Natural Disaster” to terminate the lease. This form permits the owner to end the lease contract early and regain possession of the badly damaged unit so that repairs and remediation can be undertaken.
- Mitigate your losses. Under the lease contract and Texas Property Code Section 91.006 (as well as most insurance policies), you need to use reasonable efforts to relet the premises and mitigate the damages that a resident owes you. Act quickly—there is a seven-day time period to repair that is presumed reasonable under state statute.
Entering occupied units [Access]—Post notice before entering a resident’s unit. Try to get permission before removing personal property by contacting, if possible: (1) the emergency person(s) listed on the resident’s rental application; (2) the resident’s employer; or (3) other known telephone numbers for the resident. If you have the resident’s email address, try an email message to the resident
- Tip: Post a log to keep a list of people who enter with columns to fill in the date, time and short description of the job.
- Tip: Get a letter from a third party certifying that the property poses a threat to health and/or safety.
Keep good records & take inventory—Document the damages with written reports, photos and video. Write down the facts in chronological order including major events, decisions, problems and actions.
If it becomes necessary to remove a resident’s personal possessions from the dwelling, you should fill out and post the inventory of those possessions in the dwelling when you leave (preferably on the inside of the main entry door.) You should keep a copy of the inventory in your files to avoid any future disputes regarding what items were removed. Also, it is prudent to have a witness with you when making the inventory and removing such property. Taking photographs or video of the dwelling’s interior condition and the resident’s personal property is not legally necessary—but it is certainly a good thing to do.
Know what you sign. When contracting with third-parties for emergency services, read the contract and make sure you contact an attorney so you are adequately protected.
Note about allowing disaster victims in a unit as a guest of an existing resident for free or for minimal rent: If you decide to let disaster victims live in a unit as a guest of an existing resident for free or for minimal extra rent, there are a couple legal precautions you should take.
- Use the “Lease Addendum Allowing Temporary Increased Occupancy Because of Fire, Natural Disaster or Catastrophe” which can be found on page 679 of the 2016-2017 TAA REDBOOK. This form is intended to temporarily increase occupancy after a disaster. The increased occupancy addendum provides listings of persons who are the additional occupants on a temporary basis and until a specific date.You have a right to disapprove the additional occupants. Paragraph 5 of the Addendum allows owners to disqualify the proposed additional occupant if he does not meet your resident criteria. You may also charge additional rent when using this addendum. The rationale for this is stated in paragraph 7 “to cover extra utilities and extra wear on the dwelling.”
- The “Information Sheet Regarding Disaster Victim” located on page 680 of the TAA REDBOOK should be used with the “Lease Addendum Allowing Temporary Increased Occupancy” so that you may obtain additional information about the individuals proposed to be additional persons who will reside in the dwelling. Each adult over 18 should fill out this information sheet.
- TAA REDBOOK forms, Pages 677-684 of the 2016-2017 version