Hurricane Irma: Do you rent? You could be on your own for shutters

In the mad rush to cover windows and doors before Hurricane Irma strikes, some Florida renters find themselves in an awkward spot: What if the landlord won't put up the shutters or plywood?

The short answer: Tenants are on their own.

Nothing in Florida law requires landlords to protect their home — or their tenants — in a hurricane, lawyers and experts say.

Explore>>Hurricane Irma: Get the latest news and information on the storm

"I don't think there's anything in the statute that says, 'Hey, if a hurricane's coming, you've got do to this,'" said Sunrise attorney Charles L. Simon.

Florida law requires landlords to comply with "all applicable building, housing, and health codes." When there are no applicable codes, the landlord has to keep the building "in good repair" and "capable of resisting normal forces and loads."

Even an historic Category 5 hurricane with 185 mph winds, as Irma recorded in the mid-Atlantic, does not count as “normal forces and loads,” lawyers said.

While it might seem obvious that a homeowner would want to protect their assets, that doesn’t always happen.

Explore>> Read more trending news

The Palm Beach Post spoke to three renters on Wednesday whose landlords aren’t helping. They didn’t want their names used for fear of upsetting their landlords.

One woman rents a North Palm Beach townhouse on the Intracoastal Waterway with large, glass sliding doors. The doors and windows do not have impact-resistant glass.

When she asked her landlords this week what they planned on doing to secure the unit, the answer caught her off guard.

Explore>>Hurricane Irma: Live updates

“‘Oh, you can put the mattress against (the doors) … We’ve been here since the ’80s and there’s never been an issue before,’” she recalled them saying.

She thought the response was “crazy.” She went to Home Depot at 5 a.m. Wednesday and bought plywood to board it up, even though the neighborhood association rules allow only shutters.

“I’m just saying, ‘Screw it,’” she said. “It is surprising that you wouldn’t want to take more precaution to preserve your own property.”

Explore>>Photos: Hurricane Irma gets closer to U.S.

Another man told The Post his Boynton Beach apartment complex has shutters, but since the managers didn’t have enough “manpower” to install them, they wouldn’t go up. He said they initially told him that he couldn’t install their shutters, either. The managers eventually relented, he said.

Explore>>Hurricane Irma: When power goes out, who gets it back first?

His unit is on the second story, and he has to rely on his stepfather’s help to install the shutters. He said he felt for his neighbors in other second- and third-story units.

“As an apartment resident, we don’t exactly keep 40-foot ladders at hand,” he said. “They let us know so late that no shutter place can do it either, as they are all booked.”

Explore>>Cruise ship at Port of Palm Beach offered as escape during Irma

Sometimes a lease agreement will include a provision about who's responsible for boarding up, but that's not the norm, said attorney Jerron Kelley.

Explore>>Hurricane Survival Tips: Gas lines grow long, pumps run dry: 8 tips to max out fuel you have

If it’s not in the lease, then renters are basically on their own to make themselves and their own belongings safe, Kelley said. Landlords can rely on homeowners’ insurance to cover damages. Tenants also are sometimes required to have renter’s insurance for their own things.

Explore>>Hurricane Irma: Lowe's customer gives last generator to fellow shopper

Kelley also cautioned that if renters install their own plywood, they could be held responsible for damages to the property.

David Dweck, who owns several properties and is president of the Boca Real Estate Investment Club, said he does not always provide plywood for his homes, because finding it and installing it is expensive.

“From my own personal perspective of being a landlord and going through this over the years, I advise my tenants, ‘Do whatever you can to secure the property and protect your family. If you have to evacuate, evacuate,’” he said.

When it comes to tenants installing their own plywood, “If they do a decent job, I would look the other way, because I want them to be safe,” he said.

If the home does suffer severe damage from a hurricane, the law allows the tenant to terminate the lease.

About the Author