Can I withhold rent if apartment is uninhabitable after a natural disaster?

By Tenant

Following Hurricane Sandy, there were a lot of tenant-landlord cases that was filed in court. There was a lot of misinformation on whether the tenant has the right to withhold rent because the place is uninhabitable. On the other hand, landlords sue because they want their rent to be paid. Although you will think that landlords can collect from their insurance companies, not all of them have a policy.

For instance, large property management companies may have their own insurance policies so they do not need to collect your rent in order to get the damages restored. Meanwhile, individual landlords will need to collect from you in order to get started on the repairs and renovations following a natural disaster. If you haven’t experienced this situation, you’re good. But if it’ll happen in the future, here are some facts that you need to know.

  • You may be entitled to prorated rent.

You will need to check your lease agreement and state tenant laws but usually, you will be given rent credit for the days that you had to leave the rental property in order to give way to repairs.

  • You may mutually agree to cancel the lease agreement.

In almost all leases, the landlord will be given a month to repair the building and bring it to state-acceptable standards. If the property cannot be made habitable in a months’ time, your landlord may give you the option to either break the lease or move temporarily and just pay a certain dollar amount each month to hold on to your tenancy.

If you do not agree to a certain dollar amount, you can go to court and let the judge decide on it. Discounts may also be available ranging from 10% to 25%.

  • You cannot charge your landlord for damage to your personal property.

The landlord’s responsibility will only be limited to repairing the structure. For your personal belongings, you cannot hold your LL responsible for their replacement. This is why it is important that you have renter’s insurance to protect you.

  • What if there is no lease?

For month-to-month tenancy, you would still be required to send a 30-day notice to your landlord to move out and look for another apartment. In the same way, your landlord can give you a 30-day notice to vacate if he decides to cancel the lease and not rent the apartment until it has been fully restored.

As a tenant, you may want to escrow the rent while your landlord is still doing the repairs. This way, you are giving your landlord some assurance that you have the rent money and that you are willing to stay until the apartment has been fully restored.

If your landlord fails to do the repairs on time, demands the full rent and refuses to review the lease agreement with you, you can file for a complaint against that landlord. RPA has that option that you can use and this is the link

Edited on: Saturday, February 23rd, 2013 11:29 pm

15 Responses to “Can I withhold rent if apartment is uninhabitable after a natural disaster?”

My response: (We welcome stories, examples, explanations, answers and a touch of your personality)


February 23rd, 2013 11:40 pm

After a natural disaster, both the landlord and the tenant should agree to help each other out. The landlord should repair the building to make sure it becomes habitable again and the tenant should talk to the LL about the rent payment. Nothing will prosper if both parties do not cooperate.


February 24th, 2013 11:00 am

Sad to say, there are just tenants who would use a natural disaster as a way of breaking the lease and not paying rent.


February 24th, 2013 10:00 pm

As a landlord, it would feel like an overkill already if you do not pay the rent and we had to do repairs. This is the case especially by small time tenants who own only a few properties. Our insurance policies may have a capped maximum so we might still need to shell out some cash out of pocket to complete the repairs.


February 25th, 2013 9:00 am

Even if we have repaired the rental property, that doesn’t meant that the utility companies will turn on the utilities too. If the storm is extensive, they may need to do a few repairs on their end too; thereby delaying the habitability of the rental property.


February 25th, 2013 8:00 pm

Let’s just pray that nothing like Sandy happens again.


February 26th, 2013 7:20 am

Time and time again, you have been reminded to get renter’s insurance. If you didn’t get the renter’s insurance before, you’ll definitely regret it.


February 26th, 2013 6:20 pm

I was renting an apartment that got damaged during the hurricane. I had to live under a leaky roof for three weeks befor the repair was completed. It was a huge aparment complex and I understand that repairs cannot happen over night. But the good thing was, my landlord was really nice and offered a prorated rent, which I readily accepted.


February 27th, 2013 5:20 am

As a landlord that owns only a few rental properties, I rely on the rent payment of my tenants to meet my mortgage and monthly obligations. I don’t have insurance so when Sandy hit, I was at a loss. I had to cancel all the lease because it will take time before I get the rental property completely repaired.


February 27th, 2013 4:20 pm

There are instances when the landlord would need to file for a cancellation of all the lease agreements because the cost of repairs would exceed the cost of just building a new apartment complex. If it involves autos, this would be called a “total loss” but I forgot what that’s called for apartments. But I’m sure there is such a thing. It is a complicated process that means you need to go to court for it.


February 28th, 2013 3:20 am

You’re only complicating things by filing a lawsuit. If you win, your landlord may not have the money to pay you back for the costs because he would have spent everything on repairing his apartment. I would suggest filing a complaint with the RPA instead. It’s cheaper and may be just as effective.


February 28th, 2013 2:20 pm

I agree. I used RPA’s services once and I got some of the resolutions I wanted. Sure, the landlord will negotiate but at least you got something resolved for you.


March 1st, 2013 1:20 am

Check your state tenant laws on what they say about the issue. What’s written here is too general. There could be changes depending on your state.


March 1st, 2013 12:40 pm

If you are a good tenant and your relationship with your landlord is good, he will take care of you. But if you withhold rent and make it very difficult for him to do the repairs, he might just cancel your lease agreement.


March 2nd, 2013 12:00 am

Where do you think your LL gets the money for the repairs? From your rent of course! And how will he make the repairs if you don’t pay?


March 2nd, 2013 11:20 am

Here you are complaining but for all you know, your landlord could be cursing the heavens for such a disaster that will cost him thousands of dollars to repair!


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