Hurricane Ida barreled through parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, New York and New Jersey last week, causing destruction and chaos.
Damage from flash flooding linked to the storm could delay or end up terminating as many as 47,000 pending real estate transactions valued at more than $19.4 billion in New York and New Jersey alone, according to an analysis by ClosingCorp.
The clean up and repair work that remains in the storm’s aftermath is overwhelming for many, and investors who have rental properties that have been impacted will want to ensure their renters are treated with care.
Urge residents to avoid the area until its deemed safe
Ida affected a few areas that rarely see severe flooding, so it’s likely that many residents may not fully understand how dangerous reentering a flooded home can be. Therefore, if such warnings haven’t already been made, be sure to tell residents to stay out of the property until it’s been evaluated by a professional to ensure the area is safe from contaminants and that any standing water doesn’t have an electric charge.
It’s also important to urge tenants to throw out anything soft that’s been permeated by flood waters and can’t be thoroughly cleaned and dried out, like mattresses, stuffed animals, other cushy furniture, baby toys or toiletries and makeup.
Be clear about repair responsibilities
Landlords are responsible for repairing any structural damage to a property, including roofing, walls, floors and anything else that stays with an apartment, like appliances. However, be sure that renters are aware that any personal belongings of theirs that were damaged are their own responsibility to replace.
If a renter’s apartment is uninhabitable as a result of storm damage, the responsibility falls on the landlord to find another place to house tenants while necessary repairs are being made, whether that be another apartment in their portfolio or a hotel room.
Encourage renters insurance
With climate change continuing to accelerate and more disasters like Ida potentially on the horizon, urge residents to get at least a basic renters insurance policy, if not one that includes flood insurance.
“I know that my landlords that are my clients are insisting on renters insurance, so I would say that that’s probably the first important piece or takeaway that should be on everybody’s mind today,” AnneMarie Tamis-Nasello, an associate broker at The Corcoran Group in Long Island City, told Inman.
“It protects both the tenant and the landlord.”
Most basic renters insurance policies do not include flood damage, so be sure that tenants understand this, and seriously consider if it makes sense for them to get for the future.
Assessing the situation
Property owners who are attempting to assess damage of a building themselves should first take a look at federal resources like the CDC’s guide on how to clean up safely after a disaster. The guide points out many factors that should be considered, from a building’s structural integrity, to risks like gas leaks and electrical hazards, as well as potential mold growth. FEMA also has a similar guide that offers steps for repairing and rebuilding after a disaster.
Some key precautions to take include only entering a building in daylight; wearing rubber boots, gloves, a N-95 mask and a hard hat; immediately turning off the main breaker or hiring an electrician to do so if it can’t be accessed without wading through water; and staying alert to any unusual noises like creaking (could mean the building has become structurally compromised) or hissing (might indicate a gas leak).
Hiring professionals to help with these issues, like electricians, plumbers or water/flood mitigation companies are all good ideas, although, in areas most severely impacted by the storm, these professionals may quickly become backed up with work.
Notify residents about federal resources
Federal assistance is available through FEMA and other partner agencies for those impacted by the storm located in Louisiana, parts of Mississippi, New York and New Jersey. Share FEMA’s Hurricane Ida resources webpage with residents, and be sure to note that there is a link available through that site where impacted individuals can apply for disaster assistance by providing some basic information.
The FEMA site also provides a number of state-specific resources, including state emergency management office websites, and helpful tips for what to do after a storm.
No matter the specific circumstances, be sure to communicate with renters every step of the way. Keep them posted on repair timelines, what needs to be done, if there are any delays or unforeseen circumstances and if you can give them any kind of compensation for their trouble.
“People don’t want to be left in the dark with anything,” Christopher Austad, a broker with Douglas Elliman in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, told Inman. “As long as you communicate effectively, even if it’s not a positive update, if it’s bad news, at least have a conversation about it so people can know what to expect. I think most frustration happens when people are left in the dark, standing around waiting for an answer or somebody to get in touch with them.”