Flood damage can take many forms, such as water indoors, backed up sewage, an eroded foundation, a caved in roof or ceiling, uprooted trees falling on things, mold, asbestos or loss of personal property. Here is some information on how students who rent should go about dealing with that damage.
Repairs to rental unit/termination of lease
- Generally you should look closely at your lease to see what repair responsibilities are whose. Some repairs may be the responsibility of the tenant, some the responsibility of the landlord. There is no general rule that makes all repairs the responsibility of the landlord. If repairs are the responsibility of the landlord, be sure to follow the terms in the lease for requesting repairs. If your landlord is going to repair the unit, you want to be sure that repairs are done correctly so that the unit is safe and healthy to live in. Boulder County has posted some excellent information on its website about this. A link to their website is at the bottom of this page.
- Generally speaking, tenants with damages to their residences should be able to get their rents abated (reduced) for the period of time that damages exist. That said, abatement depends on what the damages are and how long they last. You should also note that some leases contain a provision stating that the tenant has specifically agreed to no abatement of rent.
- If the flood caused the condition of your rental unit to be so bad that the dwelling is legally uninhabitable, you may be able to terminate your lease under Colorado’s Warranty of Habitability. Note that the condition of the rental needs to be downright unhealthy or unsanitary, if not life threatening—not just inconvenient or ugly, but seriously impossible to live with. To have a right to legally terminate the lease, there are certain rules you must follow, and you must follow them very carefully. You should see a lawyer to make sure you understand those rules so that you can avoid being responsible for rent for the remainder of the lease term. Under no circumstances should you just stop paying rent.
- You may be in a situation where you want to have the rental unit repaired and move back in but your landlord wants to terminate the lease. If you are, you should make an appointment with a lawyer to review your lease and any proposed modifications to it, and to discuss your options on how to go about negotiating with your landlord.
- Note that if the lease is terminated by either you or the landlord, the landlord still has a period of time before he or she must return the security deposit. The period can be as long as 60 days depending on what the lease says.
Repairs to or replacement of damaged personal property
Many students suffered damage to property such as laptops, textbooks, clothes or appliances. You should be aware that it is generally not the responsibility of the landlord to repair or replace these items because leases usually include a provision stating just that and encouraging the tenant to either take out renter’s insurance or make sure he or she is covered under a parent’s homeowners policy. You need to check the terms of any policy carefully, though—many policies specifically exclude damages cause by floods.
- Damage stemming from last week’s flood can be reported to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with a damage claim, and there may be some chance for federal assistance. You should consider filing a report even if you have no insurance to cover your problem. A link to FEMA’s website is below. Whether your claim is to an insurance company or FEMA, be sure to take pictures of the problem as evidence.
- We’ve mentioned the websites for both Boulder County and FEMA in the information above. Links to their websites are here along with some other helpful flood websites.
You can learn more about your rights and obligations with respect to repairs, lease termination, mold remediation and flood related damages/expenses this Thursday September 26. From 5:30 - 7:30 pm, a panel of attorneys will be answering flood related landlord/tenant questions, including questions about Colorado's Warranty of Habitability. The panel will be held at the Boulder City Council Chambers, 1777 Broadway. For additional details, click here.
Whatever your situation, we encourage you to discuss it with a lawyer because details can make a big difference in the outcome. (For example, roommates may not agree on the need to move out and claim the rental unit is uninhabitable. Your case will be a lot weaker if a roommate just stays and puts up with the situation that you are claiming is impossible.) Student Legal Services is available to help you if you are eligible for our services. Low cost meetings with lawyers are by appointment. To schedule an appointment, click here.