Renters with damaged homes must terminate leases by May 11

William Evans

Losing a home in the path of a deadly tornado is difficult to overcome.

Losing a court battle for neglecting to pay rent on a storm-damaged home can be just as troubling.

Renters whose homes or rental apartments have become uninhabitable because of last week’s tornado have 14 days to notify their landlords in writing that they wish to terminate their leases, said Larry Gardella, director for advocacy at Legal Services Alabama.

Since the tornado touched down on April 27th, the deadline for sending the notice of intent to terminate a lease would be Wednesday, May 11th.

Alabama’s law concerning landlord and tenant rights allows tenants to terminate their leases if their rental properties have been destroyed or substantially impaired.

“If you can’t house somebody, I don’t think you have the right to charge them rent,” Gardella said.

The notice of intent should include the address of the rental unit, the reason for the unit being uninhabitable, the date the tenant vacated the property or when the property was destroyed and the tenant’s new address where the landlord can send the security deposit and any unearned prepaid rent, according to a Tuscaloosa News article on the subject.

Within 35 days of legally vacating their destroyed properties, tenants are entitled by law to receive any security deposits and unearned prepaid rent from their landlords, Gardella said.

“Even if tenants do not send the letter of intent, I still believe that they should be protected [by law] since their properties are unlivable,” he said.

Determining when a rental property is uninhabitable can become a source for legal altercations, he said.

“Some buildings are destroyed, but in other cases, it’s just been shingles off and it’s leaking,” he said. “There are repairs that are needed, but that’s a separate thing.”

Tenants should take pictures of the damage to their dwellings to anticipate legal action from their landlords.

“If the building is still standing but the apartment is still devastated, take pictures just in case the question comes up,” he said.

Dwellings that have incurred structural damage, such as a missing roof, that endangers the safety of tenants satisfy the legal conditions for a tenant to terminate a lease, said Jackson Wallace, director of University Downs, an off-campus apartment complex off 15th Street that was hit by the tornado.

“Anything where the unit is uninhabitable because of structural issues would be something that would meet the definition,” he said.

Because apartments at the Downs suffered from damage such as broken windows and temporary power outages, the Downs does not intend to have leases terminated, he said.

“Not having power is one thing; not having an apartment to live in is another,” he said.

Alison Smith, a graduate student studying journalism, said her apartment at Arlington Square Apartments off University Blvd. fell in the path of the tornado.

Two days after the tornado struck, her landlord contacted her to release her from any responsibility of paying rent for the remainder of the lease.

“They let us know because their office was destroyed too,” she said.

She received no official emails or phone calls from the University that advised her of the written notice of intent she would have been required to send otherwise, she said.