Renter's Rights: Storm, Fire, or Theft

Here is a starter list of helpful tips for renter's either before or after a disaster, fire or theft. Remember, landlord-tenant rights vary from state to state and even county to county.

Be Prepared

  1. Before leasing or renting, make sure your building is safe and up to code.
    • Look for smoke alarms, fire escapes and extinguishers in the hallways and in the apartment.
    • Check the state of the apartment. Look for needed repairs like cracks, leaks, drafty windows, etc.
    • Check to see if windows and doors are easy to open. Look for security measures like security alarms, deadbolts, locks on windows, etc.
    • Check out the condition of the heating/cooling, hot water, and plumbing systems.
    • If you believe you need to add extra safety measures, talk to the landlord about your safety concerns and what you both can do to improve your safety situation.
  2. Make an emergency escape plan and practice it.
    • Know where all fire extinguishers, smoke detectors and fire escapes are located.
    • Know where the fire alarms are located in your building and how to operate them in an emergency.
    • Floor plans and evacuation procedures should be posted on every floor. Take time to learn them and teach others about the plan.
    • Meet with your landlord to discuss the best escape plan for each room in your unit and other areas in your apartment complex. If the landlord doesn’t know, ask a fire or emergency official about the best escape routes for your apartment.
    • Remember, in apartments or condos, often there is only one way in or out---no back door. Know at least two ways to get out of your apartment.
    • Draw a floor plan of your residence. Mark two escape routes from each room. Place a copy of the plan in the bedroom of each family member. Make sure the plan is easily accessible.
    • Pick a family meeting place outside the apartment building. Be sure that there is another way to exit the apartment and that the routes are secure, safe, and intact.
  3. Make sure there’s a number on your apartment door. If there isn’t, contact management.
  4. Learn to recognize the sound of the fire, tornado and general warning alarms, and leave the building immediately when you hear them. Never ignore the alarms.
  5. Keep your balcony clutter-free.
    • Avoid overloading a balcony with stuff. Piles of furniture, plants, toys and junk can be good places for fires to start without anyone noticing right away. A balcony fire also blocks an escape.
  6. Get acquainted with the elderly folks in your building.
    • If there’s an emergency, they may have extra difficulty getting out. You may be able to help them, or you can direct help to the elderly person’s apartment.
  7. Look into renter’s insurance. While the landlord is responsible for damages and losses for the physical structure of your apartment, you are responsible for your personal belongings.
    • Renter’s insurance can be as low as $10-15 each month.
    • Check to see if your policy provides the necessary coverage and protection you need.
    • Ask your agent questions about the terms and coverage in your policy.
    • Along with insurance companies, some banks offer renter's insurance.
    • Take pictures of valuables and personal belongings.

    WHN TIP: Acts of Nature?

    Renter’s insurance may not cover all acts of nature. Most policies will cover storms and fires but they will not cover floods, general water damage or earthquakes. Talk to your insurance agent about what events are not included in your policy.

    WHN TIP: I Know You

    Consider purchasing renter’s insurance from an agent whom you already have a policy with. You may be eligible for a discount and you would only have one company to talk to after a large event.

    After a Disaster

    Again, while rights vary in each situation and location, here is a starter list of tips to help you through.

    1. Contact the Red Cross for help with immediate needs such as housing, food and clothing.
    2. Make sure you walk through before the property is turned over to the landlord. Landlords are not required to recover your belongings.
    3. Insured?
      • If you have renter’s insurance, your personal belongings should be covered. Find your policy and contact your insurance agent to file a claim or learn more about your coverage.
      • If you are not insured, you will be financially responsible for replacing your belongings.
    4. If you cannot live in your apartment and it has been deemed "uninhabitable," you may be able to terminate your lease, receive a refund or cease payment.

      Again, landlord-tenant laws depend on your area, but most areas state that if your rented home or apartment does not supply the basics (electricity, water, heat, plumbing, weatherproofing and a structurally safe and sanitary structure), you can choose to leave. Consult your state’s and county's legal codes for renter’s rights about habitability, payment, termination and other legal issues.

      Click here to find information. Consider consulting your insurance agent or your legal representative about your renter’s rights as well.

    Additional Resources

    Additional Resources

  8. Renter's Rights
    A look at the legal issues behind renting. Nolo.com discusses eviction, security deposits, insurance, statutes and other important issues related to renting. Nolo.com is a legal guide, which provides do-it-yourself legal solutions for consumers and small businesses.