September may be national preparedness month, but there is no doubt that safety precautions are important any time of the year. Often, homeowners find themselves the subject of messaging when it comes to emergency preparedness, however, it is just as important for renters to be evaluating this vital safety information.
If you are a renter, there are some specific topics that should be on your mind when it comes to safety and emergency prep. Throughout the fall season, take some extra time to focus on your emergency preparedness.
Make an Emergency Plan:
Disasters can strike unexpectedly. Homeowners, landlords, and renters alike should be prepared in the event of an emergency. The most important emergency preparedness step is to make a plan for an emergency. Sign up for emergency alerts for your area.
Make sure you understand which types of disasters could affect your local area, and make a plan with your roommates or family on how you will contact one another and reconnect if you are separated. You can even pre-agree on a meeting place that is familiar and easy to find. Natural disasters and other emergencies require a thoughtful response for the best outcomes. Ensure you know exactly how to respond to emergencies, you can order free preparedness publications from FEMA and have them mailed to you, or you can simply sign up for their newsletter.
If you live in an apartment, take the time to understand your facility’s exit plans in the event of an emergency. Be sure you know exactly where to access any emergency exits, and how you can safely leave the building in the event of a fire or power outage. Additionally, if your rental allows pets, don’t forget to make an emergency plan for your furry friends.
Learn more: Design a Pet Crisis Plan in 5 Easy Steps
Build a Preparedness Kit:
In the event of a natural disaster, you may need to survive on your own for several days. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (known as FEMA) has a downloadable checklist for a basic emergency supply kit.
According to FEMA, a basic emergency kit should include:
- Potable water
- Non-perishable food
- Battery or crank-operated radio
- Spare batteries
- Basic first aid kit
- Whistle (to signal for help)
- Dusk mask
- Plastic sheeting and duct tape (to create a shelter)
- Personal sanitation items (wet wipes, garbage bags, plastic ties)
- Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities (may not be necessary if you live in an apartment)
- Can opener (to open non-perishable food items)
- Physical local maps
- Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery
Keep in mind that your unique needs may mean that additional supplies could be important. Once you have collected the basics, it can be a good idea to gather additional emergency supplies. These can include needed pharmaceutical medications, OTC medications, pet food, feminine hygiene items, and infant supplies (diapers, formula, ect.). A sleeping bag, change of clothing, and sturdy shoes can also be useful. With the COVID-19 pandemic, you may also consider adding masks, soap, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes to disinfect surfaces.
Other Steps Renters Should Take Before a Disaster Strikes:
While your safety and the safety of those living with you is the most important part of preparedness, there are additional considerations during a disaster.
Protect Your Important Documents:
Be prepared for any disaster by insuring your belongings and safeguarding any crucial documents and valuables. Store paper copies of important documents in a fireproof and waterproof box. Store electronic copies of important documents using a secure cloud-based service to ensure you have access from any location.
Get Renters Insurance:
Finally, make sure you have great renters insurance coverage. It is very inexpensive (often less than $15 a month) and will be critical to your finances should you need to replace the items you own. Your landlord’s insurance will not cover your belongings.
Document Your Belongings for Insurance Claims:
Renters insurance policies can save renters thousands in the event of threats to the property. To ensure that you get the most money for the stuff that you own, you will need to document your belongings. This can be as simple as taking a video of your belongings and including the serial numbers for any valuable items.
What Renters Should Do After a Disaster Strikes:
After a disaster strikes and you are in a safe area, you will need to know exactly what is covered by insurance and what will not be covered. Remember, to effectively protect your belongings in the event of an emergency you need to be covered by renters insurance. Depending on your specific plan, your rental insurance may even cover the cost of temporary housing in the event of a disaster.
If your rental is rendered uninhabitable due to damage from a disaster, your local and state laws will decide how this is handled. Unfortunately, this can greatly vary depending on your municipal area and your state.
What if my rental is not habitable anymore?
In general, as long as you are paying rent, renters have a right to an implied warranty of habitability. This means your landlord may be responsible for ensuring that you have a temporary place to live while your current rental is being repaired. However, an emergency can change the normal restrictions when it comes to your (or your landlord’s) ability to break your lease agreement.
In some areas, if the rental unit is partially destroyed (due to no fault of the tenant) you have the right to terminate your lease upon delivery of written notice to the landlord. Additionally in some areas, if a property is totally destroyed the lease will terminate, the landlord does not need to provide temporary housing, and the tenant can stop paying rent. If you have any questions about how your area handles housing rights in the event of disasters, check with your local housing authority or a lawyer familiar with landlord-tenant law for your area.
What if my rental was destroyed?
If your rental was destroyed in a disaster, your landlord or property manager should communicate with you your rights and provided information about repairs, relocation, or lease termination.
Other steps to help you through the process:
- Be on the lookout for relief and recovery stations in your community. American Red Cross, FEMA, and other local non-profits set up stations in communities for displaced residents to find resources during a disaster.
- If you have been permanently displaced due to total property destruction, you will likely need to seek new rental housing (verify your area’s laws). If you work with a property management company, ask if they have other unaffected properties that you could sign a new lease to live in.
- File a claim with your insurance provider if you purchased renter’s insurance. This will require you to make a list of what was destroyed and damaged. Reference your video or list of belongings to make sure you don’t forget anything.
No one wants to deal with a frightening situation, but emergency preparedness can ensure that you and your family or roommates are as safe as possible. It’s never too early to plan for the unexpected. A comprehensive plan can ensure that the aftermath of a disaster is not as overwhelming.