What are my landlord responsibilities in case your buy-to-let property is flooded?
Last month was the second-wettest February in 254 years. Many parts of the UK were hit by major storms in consecutive weeks, with strong winds and heavy rain lashing increasingly waterlogged towns and villages.
The seemingly endless deluge has caused unprecedented flooding across large parts of England and Wales. More than 3,000 homes and businesses were flooded in February, according to data from five of the worst-hit local authorities.
If your buy-to-let property has been affected by flooding it is likely to be a stressful time for you and your tenant, who may have lost belongings and now faces the prospect of being uprooted from their home. It is therefore important to understand your obligations and responsibilities in order to make this difficult situation as smooth as possible.
What am I responsible for?
In short, if the flood is caused by natural causes it is the landlord’s responsibility to pay for repairs. After a flood you will need to return the property to the state it was in before the waters rose.
As flood waters are hugely destructive, the damage to the property will likely be matched by the damage to your bank account; it is likely that you will have to replace carpets, furniture, white goods as well as the electrics.
Structural damage will need to be carefully assessed, while it is likely you will need to undertake extensive cleaning and redecorating once the flood waters have receded.
You are not responsible for your tenant’s belongings, including any furniture they may have. They will need to claim any loss or damage under their own contents insurance.
Will I need to re-home the tenant?
If the flooding is extensive, alternative accommodation may need to be found for the tenant. But in the case of a property being rendered uninhabitable by a natural disaster such as a flood, it is the local authorities responsibility to find accommodation for those affected.
Will I still receive rent?
Your tenancy agreement may include a clause that states rent does not need to be paid if the property is uninhabitable, or that any rent paid during that period will be returned to the tenant. If you have insurance that covers rehoming tenants, the rent money will be paid back to you, the landlord.
If it does not include this clause then, in theory, the tenant should continue to pay rent, but this would be difficult to enforce. In this situation you will need to come to an agreement with your tenant regarding rent. Remember, that while this is a frustrating and stressful situation for you, it is likely to be worse for your tenant whose home it is, so be empathic and be prepared to compromise.
What to do in the event of a flood
Get in touch with your tenant and advise them to take flood precautions, including turning off the electricity supplies and any electrical equipment.
Tenants should be provided with emergency contact details and they should let their landlord or agent know of any damage from flooding as soon as possible.
Tenants should move any valuables to higher floors and take steps to minimise the damage to the property, such as banking sandbags (hopefully provided by the council) or towels at the base of doors and windows.
If you are able to, take time-stamped photographs of the flood waters and, later, of damage done by the receding waters.
Check your insurance policy
A watertight insurance policy, so to speak, will help take the financial strain off what can be a very expensive situation.
Does your policy provide alternative accommodation cover in case your tenants need rehoming at your expense? Does it cover rental payments if you have no rent coming in? Check to see what items are included in a damage clause and to what value? Now is a good time to take a thorough look at your policy to check you are fully covered.