Hurricane Harvey – Our thoughts for landlords

HurricaneHarveySatellite-NASA
Photo credit: NASA

Hurricane Harvey in Texas has been catastrophic in so many ways and has affected millions of lives. I know because many of us at Tenant File are from that area and have friends and relatives living there.  Though the Tenant File headquarters is in Austin Texas, which was spared much of the fury, our friends to the south weren’t so lucky. Our best wishes and prayers go out to all of those affected as many of them are still going through rough times at the time of this writing.

Personally, my parents live in Victoria. Hurricane Harvey crept in to Texas around Rockport, which was devastated. Victoria is only 29 miles from the coast, and that is where Harvey parked itself for 3 days. Both my parents live in an assisted living facility, and we got word on Thursday night that they had a mandatory evacuation by 9:00 am the next morning. They told everyone in Victoria they had to get out. The city has around 80,000 residents, so you can imagine the panic and confusion.

The only place to go was my sister’s farmhouse 10 miles away, but my 87 year old mother passed out getting in the car and had to be rushed to the hospital in Victoria. She rode out the unrelenting lashing in the hospital with my sister, and my 92 year old dad hunkered down at the wood frame farmhouse. It was hit with the fury of Harvey but the 100 year old house withstood the winds and torrential rain. After the second night, they had to evacuate my mother from the Victoria hospital, because the hospital was filling up with critical patients. So my mother went to San Antonio. My father had been without electricity since the storm hit. Power came on Monday night for them, but many residents in Victoria are still without power now.

HurricaneHarvey-Boatdock-AdreesLatif-Reuters-50
Photo credit: AdreesLatif-Reuters

The point is, you never know what is going to happen. It could be a hurricane, a flood, earthquake, terrorist attack, fire, burglary or whatever … so you have to be prepared.  If you are a landlord, you are in charge of protecting your property but you also have a responsibility to your tenants. Of course there are legal responsibilities, such as providing a safe and habitable environment for them. But I’m talking about moral responsibilities. Is there a tree leaning over the rental, such as a Chinaberry tree that has a shallow root system? That is dangerous for both your tenants and your property, so you should deal with that before the worst happens.  Is it near a creek or in a low-lying area prone to flooding? Maybe you should consider barriers or improve the landscaping to handle the runoff. Are there loose shingles, siding, or stacks of lumber or other items that could become a hazard in high wind?  Fix it, or get rid of it. Do you have an evacuation plan or a means to contact your tenants quickly? Get one. Can your tenants get in touch with you if they have to leave quickly and need to know the status of their home? Be sure they have the information they need, by sending them a text or email explaining the situation, and keeping them updated on a regular basis. Let them know that you care.

HurricaneHarvey-AP
Photo credit: AP

Also, you should require renters insurance for your tenants. While the structure of your building has to be insured, many tenants mistakenly think that their own belongings are covered through your insurance. It is up to you, the landlord, to let them know that it is mandatory (or should be) that they get renters insurance for themselves. It is affordable and can be tailored to cover their pets, liability for visitors, theft, fire and natural disasters.

HurricaneHarvey-MarkRalstonAFP-50 Getty
MarkRalstonAF-Getty

And of course, don’t neglect getting insurance for your own property! That can certainly put you in legal jeopardy. A friend of mine knows a tenant in Houston that evacuated. Her rental home exploded because of a gas leak caused by Hurricane Harvey. The house burned down, but thank God she had already left. The landlord did not have insurance on the house, nor did it pass the compliance protocol for gas burners.  Image if that was your rental home… this will probably be a nightmare for the landlord as well as the tenant. And to think, what if the tenant didn’t leave in time? There is no excuse for neglecting your rental property, for your own sake, and morally for the sake of your tenant.

I guess the best thing to do is to put yourself in the shoes of your tenants, and think about what you would need if a disaster strikes. Then don’t put it off, because you never know what will happen and it might be too late later on. Fortunately, my parents are ok, but it could have been much worse. For millions of people in Houston, Galveston, Port Lavaca, Rockport, Port Aransas and hundreds of other cities along the coast and inland river ways, this is a nightmare coming true. Please provide whatever help that you can!

About the author: Wayne Gathright is the president of the Tenant File Property Management Software company. For more information, visit http://www.TenantFile.com.