This post was written by Michael Mengden to address landlord and tenant issues brought about by Hurricane Harvey. He is president/broker of Terra Residential Services in Houston, 2011 chairman of the TAR Property Management Committee, and 2002 president of the National Association of Residential Property Managers.
“These comments are from my experience and knowledge. I’m a long-time property manager, run a residential property management office, and teach leasing and property management to REALTORS®—but I am not an attorney.
“First of all, agents will be contacted. Unless you are in property management, please know that your responsibility and fiduciary duty ended when the lease was signed, but we are all helpful people and like to do so. Just don’t get yourself sued. There will be lots of tense times ahead on both sides, some bad information going around, and it should be cleared up somewhat.
“I have lived through more disasters than I can remember and the first thing I will say is that everyone needs to be reasonable. We are dealing with maybe the landlord’s entire retirement fund, and the tenant’s home with all their possessions.
“Tenants: Please contact your landlord, even if just to tell them that you are OK and the property is fine.
“Landlords: Contact the tenants to see if they are OK and if the property is OK. If not, there are rules and options.
“Tenants: If you don’t have renters insurance for your stuff, you are out of luck. The landlord is not responsible for your possessions. That is what renters insurance is for and only if it covers floods.
“Landlords: If the property is flooded and it is serious, then both parties have rights and options to properly terminate the lease and allow the tenant to move and get their deposit back. However, the tenants can’t abandon everything because the roof leaked in a closet. Landlords, be reasonable. You can’t make a tenant stay in a house no longer habitable.
“The issues and the lawsuits come up when the two parties can’t agree on how bad or how long the repairs might take. Tenants, understand that the landlord may not have flood insurance. And even if they do, most policies that I have seen do not pay lost rent. That means if you, the tenants, move out, the landlord has no rent coming in while repairs are being made. So, be reasonable and have the conversation soon.
“Also, repairs won’t be made overnight. This is the worst disaster in Houston history. The worst I had experienced before took months and months to have claims filed, estimates done, and even qualified contractors to show up. The two winter storms we had in the 1990s that caused frozen pipe breaks everywhere had plumbers from around the country descending on Houston, and they still took months to get around to all the homes flooded with water from broken pipes. After Hurricane Ike, it took six months to get some roofs replaced, as there simply weren’t enough tarps and adjusters and roofers to fix them all. So everyone, please be reasonable and try to get through this disaster without suing everyone.
“One last thing; Tenants, you owe rent until you move. Withholding rent while you are arguing can get you evicted. I have seen a lot of well-meaning and troubled tenants evicted from slumlords when they didn’t follow the rules. Follow the rules. Get assistance if needed. But don’t bully.”