My rented property was damaged in a natural disaster? What are my rights?
Natural disasters are events like a flood, windstorm or tornado. If you have a lease read it. It will likely say what happens if your rental property is damaged or destroyed by a natural disaster.
If you don't have a written lease and your rental unit is damaged or destroyed by a natural disaster, your landlord is responsible for making repairs to the property. Under West Virginia Code § 37-6-28, if your rental unit is totally or partially destroyed by a natural disaster then you may be able to (1) temporarily reduce your rent until the unit is repaired, (2) end your lease if the unit is not repaired after a reasonable time, or (3) sue your landlord for failure to reduce rent while the unit is damaged or not repaired.
Also, under West Virginia Code § 37-6-30, your landlord has a duty to provide you with a rental unit in “fit and habitable condition.” This means that a person must be able to live in the rental unit with things like electricity, heat, running water, working bathrooms, etc.
Damages and destruction to the rental unit must not be caused by something that you did or did not do. You must tell your landlord immediately of any damages caused by the natural disaster. You should send a letter and make a copy. The landlord then has a reasonable amount of time to make repairs.
May I withhold payment of rent because of the disaster or because the landlord failed to timely repair the rental unit after the disaster?
Withholding rent is usually not a good choice because your landlord could sue you for eviction. Instead, take your landlord to court to reduce the rent based on the conditions of the unit.
You can withhold rent when (1) the damage makes the property unlivable, (2) the landlord knows about the problem, and (3) the landlord is given a reasonable time to fix the problem. You must keep the rent money even if you do not give it to the landlord.
You may not withhold rent if (1) you were already behind in your payments when the damage occurred –OR—(2) you, your family, or a guest of yours, caused the damage.
Steps to Withhold Rent:
- Let the landlord know of the damage in writing. Certified mail is best. Keep copies of what you send.
- Give the landlord time to fix the problem.
- If the problem isn’t fixed, write the landlord another letter saying you will be withholding rent for that reason.
- DO NOT SPEND THE RENT. You must have cash in hand when you go to court.
What if I get an eviction notice for not paying rent because of a natural disaster?
You should try to find a lawyer to help you. You can apply for help from Legal Aid or contact other legal resources. Also you can go here to learn more about the court eviction process in West Virginia.
Can I force my landlord to make repairs caused by a disaster or can I make repairs myself and deduct the cost from rent?
You cannot force the landlord to make repairs. You can only have your rent reduced or terminate your lease. If your landlord wants you to make repairs, get it in writing and save all receipts.
How is my rent reduced?
West Virginia law says that your rent should be reduced to the “fair market value” meaning the value of the property as it is with damage. (West Virginia Code § 37-6-28). If you cannot agree with your landlord on the reduction, a court can make that decision.
Can I sue my landlord if they refuse to reduce my rent or make repairs and I want to stay in the rental?
Yes, you can sue your landlord if they refuse to follow the law and reduce your rent or make repairs. To do this, there must be a defect or damage to the property that makes it not livable. You must be able to document the damage. You should keep track of important dates like when the natural disaster occurred or when you contacted the landlord about the damage. Take pictures or video the damage. Call the building inspector, fire department, or county health department to inspect the property. Collect evidence that your home was in a declared disaster area.
You do not have to remain in the property to sue your landlord. You can move out and sue your landlord for failure to reduce your rent or make repairs.
Do I have to pay to file a lawsuit against my landlord for not fixing damages caused by a natural disaster?
There is a fee to file a case. If you cannot afford to pay the fee, you can fill out a Fee Waiver Form. If you qualify, then you will not have to pay any court costs or fees. For more information about Fee Waiver Forms, go here.
What are my rights regarding my personal property that is destroyed by a natural disaster?
In a natural disaster, the landlord will not be liable for damages to your personal property. You can buy renter’s insurance to protect your personal property. Check your renter’s insurance policy. You need to know what items are covered. In a flood, regular renter’s insurance may not cover your personal property. If you do not have insurance coverage and you are in a declared disaster area, FEMA may be able to help.
I am a tenant in public housing, what are my rights?
A renter in public housing has the same basic rights as a renter with a private landlord. If the property is not livable, the Public Housing Authority may have a duty to move the renter to similar housing. If you are having problems, you should try to find a lawyer to help you. You can apply for help from Legal Aid or contact other legal resources.
I am receiving a Section 8 voucher, what are my rights?
A renter with a Section 8 voucher has the same basic rights as a renter with a private landlord. But, there are special rules when you have a Section 8 voucher. Contact the public housing authority to transfer your Section 8 voucher to a new rental. You must get approval before you move and be issued a move packet. Follow the rules to move. You can lose your housing voucher if you do not follow the rules. If you are having problems, you should try to find a lawyer to help you. You can apply for help from Legal Aid or contact other legal resources.
How can I get help finding another place to live or with financial assistance?
There are many organizations that are willing to help depending on your situation. You can contact the West Virginia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster to see if they can get you to the right place for help.