Tenants may need to leave their homes suddenly. For instance, if the landlord has to make significant repairs or renovations, they will have to evacuate the property until these are complete. These repairs can require weeks or months before the property is habitable, mainly if the damage is caused by a flood, fire, or other natural disasters.
Under those circumstances, tenants need to live somewhere temporarily, sometimes in a hotel. However, staying at a hotel is not free.
Hence comes the question: When does a landlord have to pay for a hotel room for a tenant?
The Responsibility of Keeping a Property Habitable
One of the landlord's many duties is always to keep the property in livable condition. In simple terms, a habitable property has adequate heat, water, electricity and provides its residents a clean and safe environment.
Landlords are legally responsible for keeping their rentals in error-free and liveable condition. They must maintain it during the rental period, including damage beyond the normal wear and tear.
Keep in mind: Due to the variable nature of landlord duties, one should carefully consult local codes regarding rental properties in their state and city. This information can be found on your local housing website.
Although the law for a landlord to keep the rental property habitable is different from state to state, the implied warranty of habitability details is in the lease agreement.
It's the landlord’s responsibility to maintain the dwelling to meet minimum standards for human habitation. This includes adequate weatherproofing, water and sewage facilities, heating and electrical systems, clean and safe interior common areas, functioning doors and windows, etc.
If an issue with the rental unit violates one of these agreements, the tenant has every right to request repairs from the landlord. This makes the landlord responsible for handling the repairs. If the landlord fails to act in a timely fashion (usually defined as less than 14 days for significant problems), he is breaching the agreement and violating tenant rights.
The landlord may have broken the legal responsibility when a tenant has to stay somewhere else until the property’s condition is remedied. However, the landlord's legal obligations to handle tenant rehabilitation depend on why the property is uninhabitable.
Who is Responsible for Paying Hotel Bills?
Usually, landlords are more than willing to help their tenants get back on their feet after an emergency to defer any legal consequence. Still, there is no legal clarity regarding who will foot the bill for hotel expenses. In addition, who will pay for relocation expenses?
Some people believe that the burden of relocation lies entirely with the tenant; they should be ready with funds to spend on hotels until repairs are done. On the other hand, some tenants believe that this is not their responsibility and that the landlord should pay for it.
The argument may sound logical. It's the landlord's fault in the first place if the property becomes inhabitable because they did not fulfill maintenance tasks.
However, landlords are not always guilty if their property becomes uninhabitable. Three general situations that could cause a property to become uninhabitable:
In most states, if a landlord does not fulfill their duties as set out in the lease agreement, then they will be legally obliged to compensate for the loss caused by their neglect. According to the legal definition, negligence means that a person has failed to perform a duty incumbent upon him either by law, contract, or another undertaking.
- Failure to provide safe premises or services that are reasonable
- Breach of contract
- Economic loss resulting from the negligent actions of another.
There are exceptions where the landlord is not liable, but this will depend on each case and the circumstances surrounding it.
Generally speaking, landlords or their representatives who have undertaken the responsibility to ensure the safety of tenants may be held liable. But this is only the case if there is a lack of supervision and maintenance that could result in personal injury/damage caused by fire hazards on property in the custody of the landlord.
There may be other conditions where the landlord is liable for compensation for hotel expenses, like if the premises are uninhabitable (for example, lack of electricity) or gas leaks that lead to injury or death because of poisoning. However, individual circumstances can sway these issues.
Legal action can only be taken against the landlord in the state where the accident happened.
If a natural disaster has damaged a rental property, such as a flood, fire, or storm, tenants and landlords have certain legal rights and duties.
- The tenant can vacate temporarily and return once the repairs have been completed. The landlord is not required to look for or pay for the tenant's temporary housing.
- If the property is only partly inhabitable, the tenant has the option of remaining there while repairs are made. Tenants should only consider doing this if the damage is minor and there are no longer any safety concerns.
- After the repairs are completed, the tenant and landlord can formally terminate and re-sign a new contract. Tenants should be aware that rent adjustments may be in the new lease.
- The landlord and tenant may mutually agree to terminate the tenancy if the property is destroyed or becomes completely uninhabitable.
If an agreement is not feasible, a tenant or landlord can give a written notice to end the tenancy. However, the eviction of a tenant cannot occur without a court order.
The Tenant’s Fault
There are situations in which a home can become uninhabitable due to tenants, despite the maintenance efforts made by landlords. For instance, if a tenant fails to follow their lease terms regarding cleanliness, the house's condition can worsen over time, becoming an unsafe shelter for residents.
In such cases, the tenant is the one who will pay for the relocation bills. But what remains to be done for the landlord? Suppose your tenant was simply negligent and caused substantial damage to the premises (for example, due to an ant infestation). In that case, you may want to consider terminating their tenancy instead of continuing through with eviction procedures.
You will have to consider the extent of the damage done to your property before making this decision because you could also potentially sue your tenant for damages.
Ultimately, tenants should check their insurance policy to ensure they are covered against any claims for loss or damage.
What Does the Law Say?
Typically, a landlord is not required to pay for the tenant's hotel stay while the damaged apartment is being repaired if the losses are due to an "act of God." However, if a property is rendered uninhabitable by a flood, tenants are under no obligation to pay rent to their landlord until the condition has been corrected. The reason for this is that the rental home has ceased to be in an inhabitable state as agreed.
When events are beyond a landlord's control, they are typically not obligated to cover the hotel expense for a relocated tenant. But this can be reinforced in other ways. A clause in the lease agreement is the most popular approach to do so. The provision should set forth what happens if the apartment becomes uninhabitable as a result of unanticipated events.
If the unit is uninhabitable for only a few days, landlords should not charge rent for the number of days it can not be occupied. In the meantime, tenants would be responsible for their lodgings. If the problem stems from anything the landlord did or failed to do, tenants may seek hotel reimbursement immediately or via small claims court.
State laws vary widely about how much responsibility landlords have for their tenants' moving costs when they require repairs on their properties. To provide for their needs during this challenging time, several states have laws requiring landlords to pay relocation fees or reimburse moving expenses for tenants who must move out because their dwelling has been severely damaged or destroyed by certain types of disasters. For example:
California - The California Civil Code Section 1946.2 stipulates that landlords of residential rental property must pay a relocation fee to covered tenants who are evicted due to no-fault just cause, as defined in the Act.
Los Angeles - Landlords are required to pay relocation assistance for tenants who live in units covered by the Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO) in Los Angeles County's unincorporated areas that are being evicted for a "no-fault" cause or are being temporarily relocated to qualify for relocation money.
Washington - If tenants must move out of the rental property due to development or particular code violations, landlords in Seattle are obligated to provide relocation help. The following situations require this to take place: the building is being demolished or rebuilt, or the unit is vacated and shut for an emergency condition that is within the landlord's control.
Will the Insurance Cover the Hotel Bills?
Landlord insurance policies protect the investment in the dwelling against risks associated with rental operations, such as:
- Loss of rent due to fire or natural disasters.
It also covers legal expenses when evicting tenants who have not paid their rent. A coverage limit can be purchased for each separate category, so there are no gaps in protection should something happen.
Although this is the case, landlord insurance does not cover relocation expenses, neither will homeowner insurance. Nor will it cover a renter's damaged belongings caused by a natural calamity.
However, most renter's insurance policies will cover both. This is why many landlords demand that their renters have active renter's insurance coverage.
Most renter's insurance plans cover temporary relocation costs after a covered calamity. This is known as additional or transitional living expenses coverage. The coverage can help cover the extra expenditures you incur while relocating, such as food purchases, lodging fees, and laundry bills.
It All Depends on the Lease Agreement
The most basic method to manage emergency relocation difficulties is for landlords to include a renter's insurance requirement in the lease.
The provision should be explicit in writing about what will happen if the rental property is no longer inhabitable due to unforeseen events. For example, the lease might state that if the rental space remains uninhabitable for ten days or more, neither party is obligated to the contract without penalty.
It is a good idea for the landlords to proportionally prorate the rent since tenants who have paid ahead of time for an unusable space should be compensated. Still, in most situations, this reimbursement does not cover the cost of a hotel room, especially when their renter's insurance plan will do so.
In most cases, landlords are not responsible for paying the tenant hotel room unless the lease agreement says so. If the landlord is guilty of negligence and the rented property has become uninhabitable for this reason, he may be legally penalized due to breach of contract.
However, some states require the landlord to offer relocation assistance if the rental property becomes uninhabitable and the tenant is forced to move out. You should first check the landlord-tenant local laws if something like this happens.
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