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Lucy, Esq.
Lucy, Esq., Attorney
Category: Landlord-Tenant
Satisfied Customers: 30162
Experience:  Attorney
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Leased home sustained flood damage from hurricane. Landlord

Customer Question

Leased home sustained flood damage from hurricane. Landlord asked us not to return to the home for our safety. 8 days after the storm we were allowed to return. sewage tainted flood water sat in the house for 5 or 6 days before landlord arrived and cleaned. no other repairs were done. drywall, cabinets, flooring, paneling, appliances all soaked in the flood water. EPA, CDC and FEMA advise that these items should be removed and replaced if they were not dried within 48 hours of getting wet due to harmful bacteria, viruses, mold, sewage, chemicals, etc which pose a health and safety risk. Landlord refused to repair or allow repairs to be made on the home. We were forced to rent a hotel for a week until the FEMA inspector came and found the house uninhabitable. the following day the landlord claimed he spoke to the inspector and that we were merely uncomfortable. Based on this information we returned to the house but everyone got sick within a short period of time (strep, rash, cough, congestion, sinus problems, seizure, fever). I wrote the landlord the next day to let him know the home was not livable and we requested permission to begin repairs. landlord responded by calling the police and telling us to leave. As soon as we heard from FEMA that our aid was approved and the house was in fact uninhabitable we rented another home. We left abruptly due to illness and mental anguish leaving our furniture and belongings behind. We have not returned except to take pictures of the damage and conduct mold and lead tests. Since leaving we have refrained from speaking to the landlord at all. we have not responded to any of his requests for a meeting. At first he was demanding rent and threatening eviction. then he came down and inspected the home after which he said he wanted to work things out. Now he is saying he will evict us again. Did we have a legal duty to notify the landlord when we left? We contend that his failure to remove the health and safety hazards created a situation that forced us to leave. Not only that be he appeared to want us to leave and said as much. That amounts to a constructive eviction which ends the lease and our responsibility to pay future rent. Will the lack of official and specific notice hurt our case? Will we be able to retrieve any of our belongings? could the fact that we left things behind be an issue? We believe the mold has made 95% of our property unusable. Is this something the landlord is liable for?
Submitted: 10 months ago.
Category: Landlord-Tenant
Expert:  Lucy, Esq. replied 10 months ago.

Hi,

I'm Lucy, and I'd be happy to answer your questions today. I'm sorry to hear that this happened.

Not only are you not obligated to pay your landlord rent for time the property was uninhabitable due to a hurricane, but the landlord has to reimburse you for your hotel. That's the deal - you pay rent, he gives you a place to live. When you can't live in the place you're renting, the landlord pays for you to live somewhere else, or he needs to refund your rent for each day you could not live there. The fact that he called the police to try to make you leave (which is illegal) also counts in your favor.

When a rental property is destroyed by flood, fire, or hurricane, that means it's impossible for the rental contract to continue. Both parties are excused from performance. So, you are allowed to move out once you notified the landlord as to the damage (especially since FEMA told you to move out - you can't stay after that). The landlord doesn't have any legal right to keep your belongings, but he's going to try to claim rent up until the day you retrieve them. It's in your best interests to remove your belongings as soon as possible.

The landlord is generally not responsible for the damage to your belongings. It's up to a tenant to carry insurance to protect against acts of God and nature. To get that money, you'd have to be able to prove that it was the landlord's negligence that caused the mold rather than the hurricane itself.

If you have any questions or concerns about my response, please reply WITHOUT RATING. It's important that you are 100% satisfied with my courtesy and professionalism. Otherwise, please rate my service positively so I am paid for the time I spend answering questions. If you are on a mobile device, you may need to scroll to the right. There is no charge for follow-up questions. Thank you.

Customer: replied 10 months ago.
Because he specifically told us that he changed the locks and that it wasn't safe to come back for several days after the mandatory evacuation was lifted our belongings sat in flood water or absorbed the smell that accompanied the water much longer than they would have otherwise. How do I prove something like that? I mean logic tells you that the conditions were made worse over time when not addressed right?
Expert:  Lucy, Esq. replied 10 months ago.

If you have pictures before and after he changed the locks, that would be best. But your testimony as to what it looked like, and that he wouldn't let you remove your belongings or make the repairs, is also proof. In a civil case, your standard of proof is "more likely than not," which is much lower than what you see on TV in criminal cases.

Expert:  Lucy, Esq. replied 10 months ago.

Do you have any other questions about this?