How Landlords Should Handle Natural Disasters: A Guide

Natural disaster, including hurricanes and earthquakes, cause significant financial damage worldwide each year. A report from Aon states that natural disasters resulted in $32 billion in losses globally, with only $14 billion covered by insurance, in the first quarter of 2022. These events can have a devastating impact on both finances and emotions.

To help landlords prepare and protect their properties, this guide provides information on emergency preparedness for various natural disaster and explains how landlord insurance can safeguard both the property and the landlord’s peace of mind.

The Significance of Obtaining Landlord Insurance Before a Natural Disaster Occurs.

Yesterday was the ideal day to insure your home, and today is the next-best day. Don’t wait until a calamity to assess your alternatives since it will be too late by then.

The best way to safeguard your rental properties is to sign up for a comprehensive landlord insurance plan. Landlord insurance provides the following three essential protections:

  • Damage to property, such as that brought on by a natural disaster
  • Protection against loss of rental revenue
  • Liability

Check out Steadily if you don’t have landlord insurance or want to be sure you’re completely insured. Although natural disaster is unavoidable, financial devastation is not. By keeping your insurance coverage current, you may relax knowing that you’ll be cared for in the event of an emergency.

Hurricanes

Tropical cyclones, usually referred to as hurricanes, are strong storms that may significantly harm homes and towns throughout much of the United States. The National Hurricane Center estimates that Hurricane Harvey produced $125 billion in damages in 2017, ranking it as the second costliest hurricane to strike the continental United States since 1900. (Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which caused $170 billion in losses, tops the list.)

These calamities might persist for a few days to several weeks at a time. The duration of hurricane season varies depending on the location of the nation, but generally speaking it begins on June 1 and lasts until November 30.

Areas most impacted:

  • May 15 to November 30 is hurricane season in the eastern Pacific.
  • June 1 to November 30 is hurricane season in the Central Pacific.
  • Hurricane Season in the Atlantic: June 1 to November 30

A categorical wind scale, often known as the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane scale, was devised by meteorologist Bob Simpson and wind engineer Herb Saffir to describe the intensity of hurricanes. Different degrees of property damage are estimated using this scale, which contains five categories:

Category 1 hurricanes, with wind speeds between 74-95 MPH, can result in damage to homes with sturdy frames, including roofing, shingles, and gutters. Trees with shallow roots are likely to fall and branches may break.

Category 2: (Windspeed: 96-110 MPH) Significant siding, window, and door damage. The uprooted trees may harm houses and hinder highways.

Property will sustain catastrophic damage in Category 3 winds (111-129 mph). Both wind and trees will cause significant roof damage to well-built homes. Homes near water are more susceptible to flood. Water and power will both be out of commission.

Category 4: (Windspeed: 130-156 MPH) There will be catastrophic destruction. Expect to lose part or all of the external walls as well as the majority of the roof. Large-scale flooding may happen. Power and utility disruptions might linger for weeks or even months. Most of the region won’t be livable.

Category 5 hurricanes, with wind speeds of 157 MPH or higher, can cause total roof failure and collapse of walls. There may be widespread power outages and residential areas may become isolated.

Preparation

There is only so much a landlord can do to get their renters ready for a hurricane or tropical storm. You may provide them guidance on how to best protect themselves and their rental house, even though ultimately they must be responsible for their own safety. If you own properties in a hurricane-prone region, you may also provide the supplies required to shield a house from hurricanes. The following advice will keep you and your renters safe:

Plan beforehand by directing your renters to Ready.gov hurricane page so they may create a family plan, evacuation plan, and safety plan. Clear the area of debris, and make sure that any trees or old branches that are damaged are pruned. Prior to the storm, it is important to hire someone to clear away damaged branches and trees as they can become hazardous in high winds.

Ensure that gutters and siding are securely in place and fix any broken parts. Encourage tenants to prepare a natural disaster supply kit with enough necessities for three days, including non-perishable food, water, cash, and important documents.

Remind tenants to secure any outdoor items that may be blown away and inform them of the importance of documenting their belongings through renters insurance before evacuating.

Tips for Hurricane Safety

Knowing what to do in case of a hurricane is crucial for remaining safe while a storm approaches. Here are some safety recommendations for both landlords and tenants to take if you haven’t already left the area:

  • Avoid potentially shattered windows by remaining inside. A property’s top floor should also be avoided, if possible.
  • Close all window blinds and drapes.
  • In the event of a power outage, turn appliances off.
  • Authorities and public safety professionals should be listened to for updates.

Wildfires

Natural disaster such as hurricanes and wildfires can cause significant damage and loss across the country. The National Fire Protection Association reported that wildfires in California’s wildland/urban interface caused $4.2 billion in direct property damage in 2020 alone. These fires can occur at any time and spread rapidly, particularly in regions with prolonged dry seasons. Unfortunately, human activities can also contribute to these natural disaster.

wildfire in california

Wildfires can cause widespread damage and loss nationwide.

Areas most impacted:

California (May to October) (May through October)
Texas (March to May) (March through May)
N. Carolina (Mid-October through mid-December)
Georgia (May to September) (May through September)

Preparation

If a wildfire is raging near one of your rental homes, you ought to:

  • Remove flammables: Tell renters to keep drapes and window treatments away from windows if possible. If you have time, remove 30 feet of vegetation from the perimeter of your property and plant flammability-resistant plants such hardwoods, maples, and roses.
  • Turn off the gas: Request that the gas be turned off at the property’s meter.
  • Smoke detectors: Verify that they are installed and functioning correctly.
  • Check the windows to make sure they are simple to open and that screens can be swiftly removed.
  • Have a fire escape plan: Give renters a fire extinguisher, the correct fire escape routes, and, if necessary, an escape ladder.
  • Replace outdated fixtures: Replace any outdated electrical fixtures and appliances that may pose a fire hazard. Install mesh screens under flooring and in doorways to prevent sparks from spreading.

Safety Tips for Wildfires

Here are some precautions that both tenants and landlords should take to guarantee optimum safety in the case of an unplanned fire:

  • Keep up with the latest local radio and television news.
  • In the event of a wildfire, be ready to leave right away. Track active flames and find open shelters using a map.
  • Prepare an emergency supplies kit. If you’re about to run out of something, make sure you refill everything.

Winter Storms

When precipitation occurs at extremely low temperatures during cold weather, substantial volumes of snow and sleet can result. When winds gust to 35 mph or more, continue three hours or more, and have the potential to destroy buildings (e.g., by bursting pipes from cold water or collapsing roofs from compacted snow), these natural catastrophes occur. Winter storms in the US resulted in staggering insured losses of $15 billion in 2021.

Snowfall, ice, and freezing rain usually occur between early autumn and late spring. The upper Midwest and the Great Plains see these winter storms or blizzards the most frequently, although they can occur anywhere in the US (with the exception of the Gulf Coast and California coast)

Preparation

As a landlord, you may prepare your property for a winter storm in the following ways:

  • Snow shovels: Ensure that you and your renters have access to snow shovels on your property.
  • Make sure your tenants have access to a heat source, such as a wood-burning stove or additional wood for a fireplace.
  • Make sure the pipes on your property are well-insulated and protected from the cold by checking the utilities.
  • Install carbon monoxide alarms: Deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning often rise in the winter.
  • Keep the faucets open: To prevent frozen water in stagnant water, advise renters to keep the faucets open or to use them frequently.
  • Secure windows by covering them with plastic or by adding storm windows.

Safety Tips for Winter Storms

You should be aware of the distinction between winter storm warnings and watches. If your location is under a winter storm watch, one is likely. A winter storm warning indicates that one is currently occurring or is soon to in your region. Landlords and tenants should take the following actions to keep safe during a winter storm:

  • Prepare a natural disaster kit that includes a first aid kit, canned food, bottled water, blankets, warm clothes, and a battery-operated radio so you can stay informed of any updates from authorities.
  • Stay inside and dress warmly throughout the storm.
  • Eat and drink regularly to assist the body quickly create heat.
  • Stay hydrated and nourished to maintain your body’s ability to generate heat. Dry yourself and change out of any wet clothing to prevent hypothermia and frostbite.
  • If you need to drive, let someone know your destination in case you get stranded in the snow. If your car gets stuck in the snow, stay inside and wait for assistance if you are far from the main road.
  • Exercise caution when shoveling snow as overexertion can lead to heart attacks, which is a common cause of death during winter storms. Cold weather increases the strain on the heart, making it more susceptible to injury.

A considerable quantity of materials, such as rock, mud, and other debris, is all that is necessary for them to start sliding down a slope in order for landslides to happen with little to no notice. These natural catastrophes frequently occur after fires, earthquakes, or severe storms. Up to 35 MPH is the maximum speed at which landslides may move while obliterating everything in their path. In the United States, landslides cost $2 to $4 billion in damages each year.

Fortunately, scientists have created slope stability models to assess and predict local landslide danger. The areas most prone to experience this kind of calamity are those along the Appalachian, Rocky, and Pacific Coastal Ranges.

Preparation

Consider these precautions to reduce property damage if your property is situated in a region where landslides are frequent:

  • Get a ground assessment of your property to determine its value. This aids in identifying potential risks and responsibilities.
  • For information on landslides in your region, a study of your property, and suggestions for collective action, speak with geologists and local officials.
  • Get insured: Speak to your agent and think about acquiring insurance if your property is situated in a high-risk area.
    Build retaining walls and place ground cover on slopes to secure your property. Additionally, create channels to divert landslide material flow around structures.
  • Inspect pipes: Ensure that your pipes are equipped with flexible fittings to prevent any potential breaks.
  • Watch for warning signs: Keep an eye out for indicators that a landslide may happen, such as shifting soil or walls, newly formed cracks in walls or ground, separation of stairs, broken utility lines, or faint rumbling noises (indicating movement of debris).

Safety Advice for Landslides

Despite the fact that there is little to no forewarning before a landslide, here are some suggestions for what to do:

  • Be on guard. Pay attention to the weather forecast since sudden bursts of severe rain in prone locations might trigger landslides.
  • Pay attention to odd noises, such as stones crashing against one another or trees snapping; these typically signal moving debris.
  • If possible, relocate to the second floor of your house to avoid being struck by moving debris.
  • If you live close to a stream or canal, watch for a shift in the water’s flow or a change from clear to muddy water. These changes may be a sign of upstream landslide activity.
  • Take caution when on the road. If you need to leave the property, pay attention while driving and steer clear of flooded areas. Watch out for road hazards such as broken pavement, rocks, mud, and other debris.

Earthquake

An earthquake is a sudden, violent shaking of the ground brought on by the shifting of geological plates under the earth’s surface. These natural calamities have the potential to cause landslides, avalanches, fires, and tsunamis. Even while they can occur anywhere without notice, there are some places where earthquakes are more prone to occur, such as the West Coast.

earthquake disaster

The image conveys the destructive power of earthquakes and the human impact of natural disasters.

Preparation

Follow these recommendations to protect your property if you live in an earthquake-prone area:

  • Recognize any weak points in your property that can make it more vulnerable, and take steps to address them. Examples of structural vulnerability include unanchored constructions, unreinforced foundations, and weak crawl space walls.
  • Objects that may fall in the property should be secured, so advise your renters to do the same. You may also want to think about moving furniture and appliances to a more secure location away from beds, windows, and any potentially blocked exits.
  • Relocate heavier items: Have your tenants move the heavier items to the ground since they inflict the most damage when they fall during an earthquake.
  • Practice turning off the utilities: It’s best to turn off your property’s electricity, gas, and water lines in the case of an earthquake. Make sure you can turn off the electricity to the circuit box, as well as that of your renters.
  • Make sure your property is equipped with a fire extinguisher that is in good working order because earthquakes can occasionally start fires.

Tips for Earthquake Safety

The following advice can help you stay safe during an earthquake:

  • If you’re driving, stop, pull over, and use the parking brake.
  • If you’re in bed, lay face down with a pillow under your head and neck.
  • If you’re inside: Remain where you are and don’t run outdoors. Avoid being near windows and entrances since they are more prone to collapse.
  • If you’re outdoors: Stay away from buildings that may tumble down.
  • Use the DCH method: Drop to the ground and hold onto anything solid, such a desk or table, if at all feasible. Be cautious to protect your neck and head.

When a natural disaster strikes the region where your rental properties are situated, it is essential to begin evaluating the damages and making plans for the future. Keep in mind that these damages won’t be like regular wear and tear. After a natural disaster, you will need to decide what to do with your property, insurance claims, and tenants who have evacuated, are behind on their rent, or have returned to unusable properties.

Present a Claim for Natural Disaster Insurance

Following a natural disaster, you should start the insurance claim filing procedure. Depending on your landlord insurance coverage, the amount of support you will get can vary substantially. It’s important to demand that tenants have their own renters insurance since, not only will it safeguard their possessions and damages, but in some circumstances, it may also enable you to pay your deductible.

Unfortunately, after significant disasters, the claim-filing procedure can be quite sluggish. Patience will be essential given the volume of claims entering the system. The more thorough your records are right start, the more chance you’ll have of getting just damages reimbursement.

Landlord Responsibilities After a Natural Disaster

After a natural disaster, landlords have several responsibilities to ensure the safety and well-being of their tenants and to address any damage to the rental property. These are the landlord key responsibilities after a natural disaster:

  1. Assess the Property: The landlord should assess the rental property for any damage or safety hazards. This may involve inspecting the building, checking for structural damage, and identifying any potential risks to tenants.
  2. Communicate with Tenants: The landlord should communicate with tenants to provide updates on the situation, address any concerns, and provide instructions on what to do next. This can be done through email, phone calls, or written notices.
  3. Address Immediate Safety Concerns: If there are immediate safety concerns, such as gas leaks, electrical issues, or compromised structures, the landlord should take immediate action to address these issues. This may involve contacting utility companies or emergency repair services.
  4. Coordinate Repairs: The landlord is responsible for coordinating any necessary repairs to the rental property. This may involve hiring contractors, obtaining permits, and working with insurance companies to ensure that the repairs are completed in a timely manner.
  5. Provide Temporary Housing: If the rental property is uninhabitable due to the natural disaster, the landlord may be responsible for providing temporary housing for the tenants. This can include arranging for hotel accommodations or offering alternative rental units, if available.
  6. Document Damage and Expenses: The landlord should document any damage to the rental property and keep a record of all expenses related to the repairs. This documentation will be important for insurance claims and for determining any potential rent adjustments or lease modifications.
  7. Follow Applicable Laws and Regulations: Landlords should familiarize themselves with any local, state, or federal laws and regulations that may apply to their responsibilities after a natural disaster. This may include tenant protection laws, insurance requirements, or building codes.

By fulfilling these responsibilities, landlords can help their tenants recover from a natural disaster and ensure that the rental property is safe and habitable. It’s also important for landlords to maintain open communication with tenants throughout the recovery process and to be understanding of any challenges or difficulties they may face.

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