Natural Disaster Planning and Landlord Practices

Natural disasters are large-scale geological or meteorological events that have the potential to cause loss of life or property. Hurricanes, wildfires, floods, and tornadoes are the most commonly experienced natural disasters.

The best rental practice for landlords in planning and preparation for potential damage to rental property is to be knowledgeable of applicable state statutes regarding natural disaster issues and incorporate those provisions within the lease agreement. Landlord should take a proactive approach to planning and preparation by researching the type of natural disasters that occur in their regional area and take appropriate measures to mitigate damage and loss.

For general safety and protection during weather emergencies, landlords and tenants should take precautions such as:

  • Staying informed through local news and weather apps for the latest weather conditions, alerts, and warnings. Be prepared to evacuate as necessary.
  • Keeping cell phones charged in case the power goes out.
  • Creating an emergency plan including evacuation routes and household communication protocols.
  • Making an emergency plan on what to do with pets if evacuation is required. Research nearest emergency shelters that will accept pets.
  • Creating an emergency kit with supplies that may be needed for an extended period of time without power. The emergency kit can be used to shelter in place or function as a go bag if evacuation to an emergency shelter becomes necessary.

Lease Clauses

The following sample lease clauses addressing property damage and destruction, and as allowed by statute, may be of help to provide clarity for casualty issues. Landlords may want Landlords should discuss with tenants the rental policies that cover responsibilities of landlord and tenant in the event of a natural disaster. Habitability issues will be of concern for tenants wondering where they are going to live if their unit is damaged, when repairs will be done, and, for most tenants, their rent responsibility if the unit is damaged as a result of the disaster.

The lease agreement is the governing document for the rental term. In the aftermath of damage as a result of natural disaster, a strong lease agreement is important in helping to protect the rental property, secure tenant safety, and ensure business continuity. Advance preparation and planning are key elements to quickly address and resolve issues for tenants returning to the property. Of particular concern to tenants is what happens when (1) when a rental unit has been destroyed and is not habitable and (2) a rental unit has been damaged but is still habitable.

A lease agreement is a legal contract between landlord and tenant that does not end even if the rental premises is destroyed by a natural disaster. If the rental unit is deemed uninhabitable, the landlord must take steps to terminate the lease agreement and formally release the tenant from his contract obligations using a legal document. A landlord should research state statutes and seek legal counsel to determine the best course of action for this termination issue.

If the rental unit is damaged but considered still habitable, the lease agreement is still in effect, binding landlord and tenant to original lease terms and conditions. Landlords may want to consider incorporating the following lease clauses in their lease agreements.

  • Landlord’s responsibility to repair or replace damaged rental property is determined by the terms of the lease or as required by law.
  • Landlord is not liable for damage to or loss of Tenant’s personal property caused by a natural disaster. Landlord does not provide insurance coverage for loss or damage to Tenant’s personal property. It is Tenant’s responsibility to timely acquire insurance as required by the lease or as Tenant desires to cover loss or damage to his personal property or personal injury.
  • The occurrence of any natural disaster does not relieve Tenant from his obligation to timely pay rent and other owed monies.
  • Neither Landlord nor Tenant shall be required to perform any covenant or obligation in this Lease, or be liable in damages to the other party, so long as the performance or non-performance of the covenant or obligation is delayed, caused by or prevented by an act of God.
  • No party shall be liable or responsible to the other party, nor be deemed to have defaulted under or breached the agreement, for the delay in performance of this agreement when and to the extent such failure or delay is caused by acts beyond the party’s control (force majeure).


If the rental unit is not habitable, a landlord cannot collect rent per the lease terms. When the lease agreement has been legally terminated and the tenant has surrendered the rental premises, the tenant’s obligation for rent is ended.

Security Deposit

The issue of the tenant’s security deposit must be addressed in the lease agreement regarding lease termination due to habitability issues. The landlord cannot use the tenant’s security deposit for any damages that directly resulted from the natural disaster.

If the rental unit is damaged but still habitable and the tenant continues to live in the unit, the security deposit remains with the landlord until the end of the lease term.

Insurance Coverages

There are some important tasks for both landlords and tenants to perform in order to proactively manage risk from natural disasters. They include routinely checking insurance coverages and updating an inventory of real property and personal property assets. Not only is adequate insurance coverage needed for protection of property and assets, but a current inventory of assets can also help determine the full amount of insurance coverage that is needed and support claims of losses.

For landlords, adequate property insurance is a major property protection measure against risks. Identifying potential risks or determining under-insured areas are issues that can be addressed thorough insurance coverage review and strengthened with changes in coverage or additional policies. Insurance must be in place to be effective. It is too late to adjust coverage once an event is in progress. General insurance policies usually do not cover damage caused by hurricanes or flooding. Special policies for hurricane and flood insurance are needed for full coverage against weather disasters.

For tenants, renter insurance should have been purchased for personal property coverage against potential risks and/or as part of the landlord’s required terms and conditions as allowed by law. A tenant’s personal belongings are not generally covered by the landlord’s insurance.The tenant should review his renters insurance to determine coverages and exclusions. If there is no insurance in place the tenant will bear the costs for loss of possessions and could potentially incur liability for harm or damages to others caused by the tenant’s actions or inactions.

Important Documents

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends that important documents such as copies of personal identification, insurance policies, bank account records, other financial documents, and any other type of document that could prove identity, ownership of assets, or restore account records lost or damaged by a weather event be kept in a waterproof container readily available to the individual. Original documents should always be safeguarded in a secured device preferably at an off-premises location or stored digitally through a trusted electronic service. It may be advisable to consider cash as important as certain documents to facilitate recovery after an event.

It is important for landlords to be prepared to the extent of being over-prepared in order to protect tenant safety and mitigate damage to real and personal property. During and after the natural disaster there are many questions and concerns which if not addressed correctly could make the situation worse. Planning, preparation, and protocols provide general information and support to work through the repair and restoration process.

There are many online resources available from a variety of government and public service agencies including the American Red Cross, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and, the website for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as well as from private companies that can provide information on planning and preparation for weather emergencies.

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